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Column: End Of Election Means Rest For All

This story was written by Richard Wood, The Daily Gamecock


On Nov. 4, Americans will go to the polls to make their selection for president. It will be a historic day, a day that will shape the fate of the nation. But for a lot of Americans, it will probably be more important for another reason: It'll be the day campaigning ends.

And not a moment too soon.

Modern elections are marathons, unofficially starting years ahead of polling day. The winning candidate has to survive a gauntlet to make it to the finish, and there's rarely any consolation prize for the loser. But it's not just candidates that elections are tough on - it's also the electorate. We are bombarded with television and radio advertisements, with campaign signs and election news. Even bastions of escapism like sports are affected, as candidates make appearances at every sporting event they can. We can't get rest.

So it's no wonder a lot of us are ready for it to be all over. Now I know what some of you are thinking: Aren't you forgetting that elections are the most important part of democratic governance? That getting huge swaths of the population interested in politics is a good thing? Both of these points are good ones. But for those who see the end of the campaign season as the end of the average person's political involvement, who wish the excitement of the campaigns could continue indefinitely, they are forgetting a critical part of democracy: reconciliation.

All politicians like to make fine speeches about unity, solidarity and "bringing everyone together." The fact that George W. Bush promised to be a "uniter, not a divider" before his first term should give an idea of the rift between the ideal and the reality. But the end of every election actually brings about a remarkable show of national unity. The partisanship, the debating, the fighting and the pure passion that reach their climax just before election day come to a sudden end, and people go back to their daily lives. In many countries, the end of an election is the beginning of riots or an attempted coup by the losing party. But in America, the end of the election usually produces relative calm.

It may seem strange, but the ability of Americans to follow long periods of political engagement with long periods of inactivity, to go from wearing their party affiliation on their sleeve to keeping it entirely to themselves, is a great feature of our democracy. Candidates dream of uniting the whole country in supporting them, but how hard is it to unite when everyone agrees? The fact that more than 40 percent of the country routinely agrees to be governed by their opponents is a far greater thing. And it's as healthy to want elections to be over as it is to get wrapped up in them. Because it's the ability to forget the arguments of the campaign, and to accept the election result no matter what it is, that lets our government work.

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