What to do after an election

What in the world will we do, now that the election is over? True. We've learned how to lengthen out the post- election analysis with lots of smart hindsight terms like "demographics" and the "swing" vote, just as we've learned how to lengthen out the run for office. It now takes a President about two years to get to the White House, and maybe a year for all of us to recover, which doesn't leave an awful lot of time in between.

Still, a certain silence will fall. This sense of candidates tugging at our sleeves for attention, like small children in department stores before Christmas , will disappear. We will -- politically speaking -- experience the empty-nest syndrome.

Well, this is what we've been waiting for, isn't it? No more debates, and talk of debates. No more paid political announcements. No more 10-second snippets of oratory on the evening news. An end, at last to the crowd noise of promises, warnings, juggled statistics, and old jokes, known as the campaign.

Haven't we all been yawning, or pretending to yawn, for at least six months? Most of this long spring, summer, and fall we thought we'd never get to the point. And then, a brief moment in a polling booth, a pull of the lever, and it's all over. Or is it?

It happened so slowly -- and it happened so fast. We cannot, it seems, wind down that quickly. We keep doing instant replays in the head. If this election had a lot of "undecideds" the week before, how about the week after?

Despite the marathon allotment of time, everybody -- candidates and electorate -- feels an aching sense of things left undone.

So what shall we do with this hiatus, this sudden silence?

We have a suggestion. Now that the buttons have been trashed and the bumper stickers are ready to peel and the last marching band with funny hats has lurched off into the night, playing "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow," can we, at long last, get down to the issues? You know, those things that everybody said, "Let's get down to . . ." -- and never quite did.

Instead, the issues of war and peace kept being reduced to a cartoon of hawks and doves -- a tough guy with his finger on the Dr. Strangelove button set against a slack-jawed dupe, going terminally soft on communism. And who can forget those calm considerations of an energy policy that ruinously ended up as a Nukes vs. No Nukes shouting match!

Now that the decibels are down, we constituents have a second chance to study these and other matters, divested of vote-grabbing provocativeness. Here is our opportunity to prove that we survivors of campaign '80 have wearied of everything but the novelty of sober thought. Still, the processes of orderly argument are never guaranteed, as we may also prove.

Benjamin DeMott has noted in the pages of the Atlantic an inclination for citizens as well as candidates, to treat those who disagree with them as the "Dreadful Others." Will we too turn into name-callers in the heat of our debate? Careful, careful. Prolonged exposure to campaign rhetoric tends to convert the whole world to shrillness.

If we are to do better than the candidates, we will have to depoliticize the issues, removing them from the partisan simplicities of either-or. With issues, as with candidates, we are entitled to say: None of the above.

First rule for post-election debate: Concentrate on understanding each issue, in all its complexity, before selecting one's point of advocacy -- before buying another slogan on another button.

Are we up to this citizen's statesmanship?

We have our second chance -- for a while.But the respite between national hysterias of one sort or another seems to grow shorter and shorter. If we don't do our thinking -- our real thinking -- now, when will we do it?What else is a post-election letdown for?

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