Speaking at Tufts University on April 8th, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi had one of those marvelous moments of self-revelation in which a usually polished politician speaking casually and without a script among like-minded friends says what everyone is thinking--what everyone knows to be true--in this case what is considered an unquestionable "fact" by their audience. As you can see from the video, there was not a murmur when Pelosi circled around to her punch line that "elections should not matter as much as they do." She went on to lament that the lack of "shared values" had lead to the unpleasantness of last Friday in Congress with all the shouting and staying up late and worries over who would get to keep their Blackberrys.
The thing is, Pelosi is right. Elections are burdensome things. They are expensive, intrusive and all too frequently unfair. Even when you win, the cycle of fundraising and campaigning distracts from the business at hand.
Elections are particularly burdensome when you lose. Then their inconvenience becomes glaringly apparent. New crops of politicos have to be trained over and over again to do the same tasks as their predecessors. Perfectly able, even accomplished lawmakers are routinely tossed out on their ears to make way for the ignorant and green. Majorities and minorities ebb and flow, leading to confusion over policy and priorities. Your treasured projects, nursed and nurtured in good faith, are threatened by the newcomers who do not share your values--who may in fact be devoid of values altogether and may nip those tender shoots in the bud.
Really when you look at it from Pelosi's perspective, it all seems at best counter-intuitive and at worst barely civilized.
There has been some well-founded outrage at Pelosi's apparent disdain for the democratic process stemming from post-2008 mid-term sour grapes. I suspect, however, that the root of the problem for those of us who find her remarks disturbing rather than self-evident is less the word "election" and more the word "shared"--as in the values Pelosi believes we must all have in common to achieve a utopia free from those burdensome elections.
Variants of "share" are popular in President Obama's rhetoric as well, and I expect we will hear it several times from him this afternoon. I have noticed it as a curiously condescending word choice from a politician who is in my age group recalling what you would expect to hear from a parent or teacher, a disconnect he does not appear to see. It seems he understands the term differently. This new "sharing" is transitioning from being the free exercise of generosity--a learned trait for most humans--to being an obligatory act of subjugation to the state. You do not learn to share as a moral choice; you are told to do it. Should you attempt not to share what is yours--be it values or money--this government seems increasingly eager to put you back on the path of righteousness.
I find I am not comfortable with this obligatory sharing. I am one of those who do not consider pregnancy to be a punishment or gainful employment to be a prison. I am not eager to share my values with those who disagree on the first point or my money with those who differ on the second. As we consider the calls for us all to just get along, Nancy Pelosi's off-hand comment serves as a useful reminder of what too much compromise--too much sharing--can get us.
As unfortunate as it may seem at times, elections must continue to be our burden to bear.