“The times have been awful, but they have proved a useful truth, that the good citizen must never despair of the commonwealth.” Thomas Jefferson, March 1801, after his election to the presidency.
The Republican and Democratic primaries and conventions are over. The cheering and booing have subsided; the bunting was removed. Now is the time that tries the people’s souls, fills their TVs and mail boxes, and keeps the phones ringing.
Electioneering now begins in earnest as Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump take the themes of their conventions forward and battle for the presidency of the United States.
A different tone, urgency and portrait emerged from each of the two conventions.
Speakers at the Republican convention, attended by 2,472 delegates, repeatedly stressed a gloomy, ominous vision of America. Most of that gloom was of their own making as some statements took liberties with reality. The fact checkers were kept busy with Mike Pence’s and Trump’s acceptance speech. They were not demonstrating an unfamiliarity with reality, they were distorting it to conform to their needs.
The Republican convention was unusual in other respects, not the least of which was, the deliberate absence of many Republican elected stalwarts including those from Virginia.
No former presidents attended the convention.
The week also saw the extensive use of family members, rather than colleagues or fellow politicians to explain policies or praise the candidate. The world hasn’t seen such a cult of personality since Josef Stalin or Mao Zedong.
Trump’s acceptance speech’s theme was that he was the law and order candidate and that America needs a man on a white horse. He said there would be no prosperity without law and order, which makes one wonder why the stock market is almost 100 percent higher than eight years ago and unemployment is a low 4.3 percent in Virginia.
His speech did not contain any specific policy recommendations. However, earlier he said businesses would suffer (unspecified) “consequences“ for moving jobs overseas, and women would be punished for having an abortion.
A different tone emerged from the Democratic convention, attended by 4,764 delegates. It started raucously. There was passion. There was a stunning cast of elected officials, such as Sen. Cory Booker, who took the podium.
Playing a prominent role was Sen. Bernie Sanders, who ran a thrilling race that brought out hordes of enthusiastic young people. He was particularly eloquent in his chiding of the Democratic Party establishment and the media and offered again his vision for reform. He also graciously called for Hillary Clinton’s nomination by acclamation at the end of Tuesday’s roll call vote, just as she did eight years earlier for Barack Obama.
Speaker after speaker called for America to live up to its promise for all people. National security experts, headed by President Obama and accompanied later by retired Marine Gen. John Allen, called into question the idea that American was in decline.
Both conventions brought real people at the podium, people with problems, survivors of gun violence, such as Congresswomen Gabby Giffords, or leaded drinking water. But most eloquent at the Democratic conclave Thursday night was Khizr Khan, father of an American soldier who made the ultimate sacrifice for American freedom.
Definitely exciting for the Virginia listener was the acceptance speech from Sen. Tim Kaine. Jesuit trained, he questioned the opposition’s assertions and demonstrated evidence to the contrary.
Thursday night was Hillary Clinton’s opportunity to remind us that the national motto is e pluribus unum. America is a country of “we,” not “I.” Whatever the problems, she repeatedly stressed, they can be solved by working together.
The future belongs to the party that reflects the nation it aspires to lead. The audiences at Cleveland and Philadelphia were different in size, diversity, inspiration, and aspiration.
Going into the voting booth on Election Day is like picking your own boss. What temperament do you want? How experienced in the ways of the world? These are worthwhile questions to ask, because as a battleground state, Virginia is going to be awash in campaign ads; but as Jefferson suggested, voters must be warriors for democracy.
Those who sit this election out are abrogating their responsibilities to their children and grandchildren. Listen for the differences in the policies of the two candidates. Your choice will determine whether America stands out in the world or wanes in its stature.
Your choice will certainly affect your checkbook but it will also affect whether our infrastructure is repaired or continues to crumble, whether education serves all our children, and whether there is a wise leader who tries diplomacy before the nuclear button.
You must vote because our Founding Fathers expected you to and generations of hardworking and brave Americans have nurtured and protected this opportunity and right in peace and in war.
Editors Note: This article originally appeared here and is reprinted with the author’s permission.