As I began to write this blog, the election of 2006 had concluded, but the Senate races in Virginia and Montana had still not been decided with certainty. They were leaning toward the Democratic candidates. Now that outcome is known: both seats have gone Democratic, and with that determination, the control of the Senate.
And the House of Representatives will be Democratic controlled for the first time since the so-called Republican revolution. As a registered Democrat, I am happy. But I temper my enthusiasm and remind myself of that great concept from the medieval era: the wheel of fortune.
Tonight, in my literature class, I have asked students to bring a favorite poem, and to explain it. Also, I asked them to provide copies of the poem, or submit them to me, and I would make copies. One student has picked “O Fortuna” the marvelous text that Orff uses in his opening number in Carmina Burana. That choice couldn’t be more apt.
The medieval concept was that fortune is determined by a great wheel that spins arbitrarily and either casts one up or down. When I was in graduate school, and studied Chaucer, each of the students in the seminar class had to select one area of concentration. I happily selected Religion and Philosophy. Consequently, I ended up reading huge swaths of Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy. Boethius devoted major portions of his work Consolation of Philosophy to the vagaries of fortune. Fittingly, he wrote the work while he was in prison awaiting execution. Boethius had been an adviser to the emperor, but was charged with treason and sentenced to die. Almost sounds like some of the political folks we just threw out. . .except for the execution part.
So, why did the people voice their displeasure and throw the Republicans out (for now)? Well, as the pundits have explained, there are many reasons. But, I have my own theory—the arrogance of power. Sadly, when our political leaders assume office, they suddenly become quasi-imperialists: they believe in the divine right of rulers. They delude themselves that they can do no wrong. All too often they become corrupted by power, and forget that the genius of our system of government is that the PEOPLE get to speak. (Never mind all those times the people have become voiceless idiots).
I recently read Doris Kearns Goodwin’s wonderful account of President Lincoln and his cabinet, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. What truly set Lincoln apart was that, once he had won the election, he set about bringing in to his cabinet the very men who had run against him for the presidency. He sought men from both parties, and included them in his team. As I read this book, I couldn’t help but wish for such political genius today, or political humility. What a welcome change that would be from all the vaunted chest beating we have witnessed over the last several years.
Of course, another result of the 2006 elections is that with the Democrats in control of the House of Representatives, we will have our first ever woman Speaker of the House. The day of the election, I had to make an emergency trip to a local garage to get a new battery in one of our vehicles. There, along with other mechanics, was a young woman mechanic. She had greasy hands, wore the heavy flannel plaid shirt that seems a virtual mechanic uniform, and looked as tough as any of the young men. I was heartened to see her, and since it was Election Day, I chatted casually about the opportunity to vote. Oh, she said, I ain’t voted; I don’t watch the news, and don’t know who’s running. Besides, she continued, I don’t care who wins.
Oh, oh, oh! Vox populi. We have the right to vote—all of us. That right was hard fought, and won by inches through the course of our history. Who is in power may change, but the right, no the responsibility, to vote does not. So, keep in mind, that great wheel of fortune! And may those who rule be guided by the genius of Lincoln.