Wednesday, November 7, 2012
Tale of Two Booths
Our house has regained essential livability, but we still lack the landline telephone and with it connections to television news and the Internet. But though Verizon is not on the horizon, blog day is. I soldier on. You may have already picked up the news somewhere, but yesterday, November 6th was election day in the United States, and the incumbent Barak Obama, bested his challenger Mitt Romney in their presidential contest. The vote was pretty close, but nonetheless decisive. All of us ought now to be able to go back to productive work, except of course in the state of Florida where everybody is either retired or a full time vote counter, sometimes both.
A single day’s voting was the culmination of a seemingly endless and usually mindless political campaign on which some billions of dollars were squandered, with a bloviating ratio of perhaps fifty thousand words per dollar. Bottom line: we have the same president we had before along with a Republican House of Representatives and a Democratic Senate. As President Obama recently said, “We know what change looks like.” In this regard there were some happy surprises. The Republicans are expert at plucking defeat from the jaws of victory, but never before in living memory have they employed gynecological theology as an accelerant of self-immolation.
Though one may grow weary of our politicians, there is an excitement about American political life itself. Think about it for a moment. Nobody really knew who was going to win that election until the votes were counted. In many states the issue was decided by a relatively small number of votes among a large electorate. Many voters could credibly believe that their votes “counted”. That may be democratic minimalism, but it’s a good deal more than most people in the world have.
The apocalyptic rhetoric of the campaigners is a different matter. Just as there is a “trial of the century” every decade or so, we as usual faced “the most significant election of our lifetimes.” We were to choose between “two fundamentally different visions of who we want to be.” I do have many friends, not a few of them highly intelligent, who seem sincerely to believe this kind of thing; but it is very hard to do if you have much of an historical consciousness. What is needed is a little perspective, of which I was given an invigorating dose even before I voted.
Yesterday morning following my swim, as I stood doing something necessary in the large lavatory in the men’s locker room, I saw directly before me, taped to the tiled wall at eye-level, a colorful poster sheet, about A-4 in size. I had just then emerged from a swimming pool, and I was not wearing reading glasses. Even so I could clearly make out what it was: a calendar sheet, a rectangular grid depicting in tabular form the current month, November. Most of the rectangle’s little square subdivisions—there were thirty of them--were marked with graphic messages in differing sizes, colors, and type faces.
These messages turned out upon inspection to be useful nuggets of wisdom, especially prepared for me by that organ of the Department of Athletics called “CampusRec”, which I believe alludes to the recreational as opposed to the semi-professional varsity activities in and around our athletic facilities. By straining hard, and from a sufficient distance, my eyes could see the particular importance of each day in November as viewed from what might be called the “jock perspective”. I saw that there was indeed a message for November 6th. It was, I was sure, a helpful reminder of my civic duty, an exhortation to vote.
But not in fact. Dimly, as my eyes hazily focused, I learned that from the point of view of CampusRec, that is to say from the jock perspective, the most important thing about November the sixth was this: “Make sure to register for Flamenco Class that starts Today.” Flamenco, as everybody must know, is an extravagant form of Spanish dancing, with lots of foot stomping, rosebuds between the teeth, plangent guitars and smoldering eroticism. No one can accuse me of over-interpretation in finding a personal dimension to this message. Flamenco is supposed to come from Andalusia, but as any linguist can see a mile away it obviously must mean dancing “in the style of the Flemings,” who were for an unfortunate historical episode in the sixteenth century subjected to Spanish domination and Catholic tyranny. The Flemings’ imaginative resistance to such Hispanic mistreatment is a principal subject of the great Belgian novel by Charles de Coster, The Legend of Thyl Ulenspiegel and Lamme Goedzak (1867), a book I cannot too highly recommend.
As for me, I managed to vote, but I never got it together to register.