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November 3, 2004

Could Be Worse

Posted by Mike on November 3, 2004 9:18 AM

I once lived across a hall from a guy named Florian Kardoskee. Florian was from Appleton, WI, and he was one of the few soldiers I ever met who'd tell you "service to country" was an important part of his decision to join. I believed him. That's a hard thing to say with a straight face among soldiers, believe it or not.

Other details: He was fairly small for a soldier. He didn't buy a lot of junk, and his barracks room was pretty spartan. He invested his money and could occasionally be seen out on the picnic table with a prospectus from one investment fund or another.

The most important thing about Flo, though, was his stock response to things that really sucked:

"Could be worse."

It was the source of a lot of humor around the barracks, with repeated attempts to get him to admit to a circumstance that could not be any worse, but Flo didn't really budge. He took assorted dismemberment, bankruptcy, emasculation, and bad weather scenarios presented for his consideration in stride. And the worst hypotheticals only served to make his point for him. It was just raining while we happened to be out in the field, which was clearly better than losing both your arms to a landmine... see? It could be worse.

Death scenarios caused him to lose his patience and he'd say, with a small edge in his voice, "If I'm dead, then I really won't be around to know how bad it got, now will I?"

I'd guess Florian is pretty pleased with the results of this election. He leaned that way last I knew him. So from his perspective, things could definitely be worse this morning.

It did suck to go to bed last night knowing that even if Ohio were somehow pulled out for Kerry, the popular vote would still stand where it did, and an electoral victory doesn't feel as winningly legitimate as a popular one.

It sucked to drive Ben in to daycare this morning and hear the first news that Kerry had quietly conceded to Bush.

It sucked to wake up and see the numbers on Measure 36, which only got worse over time last night, and to hear the tally of similar measures and amendments in ten other states.

For all the suckage, though, we have a sort of clarity we didn't have two days ago. The post mortems will come in and we'll learn from them. Rather than worrying about shoring up a president with a tenuous popular mandate and a hostile congress, we'll have time to figure out what we did wrong, what we did right, how our imaginations failed us, and how we can do better. How we must do better.

Going in to the election season, I was curious and engaged by the unfolding story, but I was also unhappy. I felt detached from the process, unenthused with the candidate we got, unhappy with how the race was run. My actual civic involvement was limited to casting a ballot and spending a few afternoons out trying to get my neighbors to vote, and that's close to nothing.

In some ways, this morning leaves me feeling much more invigorated politically than I ever have. We're about to get reams of data on what just happened, we're still alive, and there have been times in living memory when this country has had worse to contend with. It's up to us to shake off our unhappiness and cope. The alternative is a useless nihilism in which we make ourselves powerless and hopeless. I'm not going there. This is still my country, too, and it didn't get conceded along with the presidency.

It could be worse. If you say otherwise, you've already given up. Please roll your own body into the ditch so the rest of us don't have to step over it.