HARVARD SQUARE COMMENTARY

November 10, 2008
From the Editor

John Turner


Despite much talk about record voter turnout in this year's election that turns out not to have been the case. About 127 million people voted, or 60.7% of the eligible adults. That means that 82 million people who could have voted, didn't. Eighty-two million people is quite a horde. It would be interesting to know something about who they are and why they chose not to cast a ballot.

I have not been one who holds that we would be better off if everyone voted. I do think we would be better off if a greater portion of the citizens paid attention to what the government is doing. But to persuade even half the people to do that seems, right now, to be impossible. What people know and why they know it is, perhaps, the greatest mystery society presents to us.

It is said that Ms. Palin didn't know what Africa is, thinking it to be a solitary nation. I can't be sure that's true, but if it is, I wouldn't be surprised. There appear to be many people who have no interest whatsoever in anything outside their immediate activities. It's not hard to imagine someone saying, "Why should I know what Africa is? What's that got to do with me?" We elect many people to public office who demonstrate, over and again, that they have no intellectual curiosity. So what's to keep the governor of Alaska from falling into that category?

If you want to know more about the soon-to-be chief of staff at the White House, you can find an interesting portrait by Mike Maddon in Salon. Rahm Emanuel really is a fairly aggressive operator. Whether his temperament will serve Obama well remains to be seen. Some say yes; some say no. It seems to be the case that those who work with Emanuel like him, in spite of, or perhaps because of, his tempestuous manner. In any case, he's Obama's pick and it will be up to the new president to use him effectively.

Gail Collins is moderating a lively discussion about whether Lindsey Graham should be held to his promise to drown himself if McCain did not win North Carolina. Ms. Collins is taking the merciful stance and says we should let him off. But there are many who don't agree. Though I don't find much to like in Senator Graham, I have to agree with Collins. I don't want anybody to drown himself. I wish, however, Graham had promised to resign from the senate if North Carolina went the wrong way. Then, holding him to his word would have made a lot sense.

There have been numerous columns written in the past few days about what the election of Barack Obama means for the nation and the world. Some of them have been quite moving. Below, I list the best seven I have read. I wish they could be bundled as a single five thousand word essay and read by he whole nation,(I am continually wishing that some simple thing that can't happen, would). In any case, here they are, for you to look up if you wish.

  • Maureen Dowd, "Who's the Question Mark?" NYT, 11/2/08 (Link)

  • Nicholas Kristof, "Rejoin the World," NYT, 11/2/08 (Link)

  • Paul Krugman, "The Republican Rump," NYT, 11/3/08 (Link)

  • Thomas Friedman, "Finishing Our Work," NYT, 11/5/08 (Link)

  • Nicholas Kristof, "Your Comments on Obama's Election," NYT, 11/5/08 (Link)

  • Roger Cohen, "Perfecting the Union," NYT, 11/6/08 (Link)

  • Bob Herbert, "Take a Bow, America," NYT, 11/8/08 (Link)

If you hold it against me that all these are from the New York Times, I don't care.

There has been scant commentary about the most important result of Obama's victory. That's the shape of the Supreme Court over the coming generation. If McCain had been elected, American liberty would have been in for sad decades. It would not have been beyond possibility for the doctrine of habeas corpus to be tossed on the scrap heap. For all the talk about strict construction, we need to remember that's not what Roberts, Scalia, Alito, and Thomas are up to.

I wonder how the election will affect right-wing radio figures. Might they become even more shrill than they have been? We'll need to keep an ear open to people like Dennis Prager, Michael Medved, Mark Levin, Neal Boortz, Mike Gallagher, Laura Ingraham, Glen Beck, Michael Savage, Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh to find out how maniacal they can become.

Finally, along with many others, I have to take note of the crowd assembled in Grant Park, Chicago, on the night of November 4th. It was one of the great scenes of American history and in its happiness it brought up in my mind Martin Luther King's lines, "Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, we're free at last."


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