Recently, a friend told me her tale of Florida votinggone wrong — again. And though I felt the heavy weightof discouragement, I discovered something I had neverexpected to find in the darkness of these times. Ifound the last of Pandora’s spirits — hope.
Let me explain.
On a warm Friday in October, three of us stand outsidea school waiting for our children. We talk with greatanimation about voting in the upcoming presidentialelection. We are all expatriate Americans living in aquiet corner of Canada: one, a chatty, Hispanic NewYorker; another, a gentle, middle-aged Floridian; andI — the lowest of the low in Republican America — anold Massachusetts liberal. The Floridian is sharingher tale of the troubles she is having with her vote.
“My absentee ballot arrived in Canada safely enough,”she says, “but unlike your ballots [from New York andMassachusetts], my ballot didn’t have a seal-ableenvelope in which to return it.” Understandably, sheis concerned and a little suspicious.
“What did you do?” the New Yorker asks.
“Well,” the Floridian says, “this morning I wrote ane-mail to a Democratic organization for Americansliving abroad. And I asked if this ballot without aseal is normal. In fifteen minutes, the groupresponded. They were concerned. And they told me tocall my local electoral office in Florida and ask foran explanation.”
So she did.
“I called and I spoke to a young girl there,” shetells us, “and when I explained my situation, the girltold me, ‘Not to worry, we’ll take care of it when itarrives.’”
” ‘Take care of it?’ I said to her, ‘Does that meanwhen the envelope is opened, Democratic and Republicanrepresentatives will be there to ensure the vote isreceived and counted?’ And you know what she said?’Well, no, you’ll just have to trust us.’”
Of course “Florida elections” and “trust” didn’t sitwell together for the expatriate Floridian. So shetells us that she again contacted the Democraticorganization and explained the new situation. And theytold her to send the ballot registered mail and theywould have a representative there to receive and countit. Further, the group suggested that she contact CNN,which was doing a story on problems with votes fromabroad.
“You mean there are that many problems with the votealready?” she asked.
“Oh yes,” they insisted, “many.”
So we three grumble and shake our fists at thedivisive politics of George W. Bush. We talk of otherreports from Florida: about the harassment of Blackvoters and Hispanic voters . And then we wonder aloud,“Will it happen again? Will our votes be lost to acourt ruling or worse?“
By now the Floridian has convinced the New Yorker thatit will happen again, and they wonder if they willever go home again. And I found myself almost ready toagree. After all, what dark spirit hasn’t George W.Bush unleashed from Pandora’s box — disease, sorrow,vice, crime?
And that’s when it happened.
I suddenly found myself rebutting the lost hope of myfellow expatriate Americans. I began talking aboutAmerica with a passion I hadn’t felt for nearly 20years.
What was it?
It wasn’t patriotism, because patriotism is born ofpassion for a country and its practices that nowexists. And my America had long disappeared withReagan and Bush the Elder. No, what I felt wassomething that belonged to a distant memory, orperhaps to a dream, or even perhaps to theMassachusetts liberalism I was taught as a childthrough the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, of HenryDavid Thoreau, and of John F. Kennedy.
I actually found myself talking about the ideal ofAmerica as a shining city on a hill, as a beacon ofpromise for those genuinely in search of life,liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And the NewYorker and the Floridian nodded their heads inagreement.
I imagined this same conversation happening amongexpatriate Americans everywhere as they too grappledwith the discouraging, Karl Rovian politics — inFlorida and around the world — of divide and conquer.I even imagined that the harder Karl Rove and GeorgeW. Bush pushed their patrician politics down thethroats of Americans the more they would provoke fromdissidents and expatriates alike America’s mostpowerful quality — its idealism.
And American idealism is pure hope — the last spiritof Pandora’s box.