Sunday, November 2, 2008

Two Days To Go Before the Counting (And Recounts, Challenges, etc) Begins

Two days from today it will be Election Day in the United States. The general sentiment among state election officials is that this years turnout will be significantly heavier than in many recent elections. Whether this is an accurate assessment can only be known once all of the votes have been counted and the actual per cent age of registered voters who voted is determined.

At this point, two things are certain. First, in each contested race there will be one winner and at least one looser. In the race for President either Barack Obama will win, which means John McCain will lose, or vice versa. Second, I feel the Presidential outcome will not be known with any certainty until the states of Oregon, Washington and California declare their respective states’ winner. If this is the case, given that the polls on the west coast don’t close until 11 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, on the east coast (where big media is concentrated), it could easily be two or three am before the outcome is known.

However, as we have seen with recent Presidential elections, even then the outcome might remain up in the air. Should John McCain appear to win, I look for Democratic challenges to the outcome in possibly several states, alleging tampering with electronic voting machines. Already, I am seeing multiple references to videos circulating on the Internet showing touch screen units changing votes cast for Obama to votes for McCain. So 2008 might end up being a replay of 2000, with the Courts deciding who will be the next US President.

My embracing of the teachings of Tibetan Buddhism has been on-going for some time. For me, it is far healthier and down to earth than Christianity, the faith of my youth. I am surviving this pivotal national election cycle with far less psychological distress than in recent years because the core Buddhist teaching "all is impermanent" helps me keep things in perspective. Whoever occupies the Oval Office next will do so only for a short period of time, then fade into history.
I’ve subscribed to Tricycle: the Buddhist Review for several years now. On their excellent website, they offer a free series of e-mails called the Tricycle Daily Dharma, which is a series of short passages presenting various aspects of overall Dharma. The November 1 Daily Dharma provides an interesting additional way of looking at this year’s election outcomes.

Joseph Goldstein, author of the book Insight Meditation, where this passage first appeared, illustrated the difference between perception and mindfulness. Briefly, when perception outweighs mindfulness, the mind recognizes various appearance-guided artificial concepts. To build on his main example, in the Northern Hemisphere nighttime sky, on a clear night it is relatively easy to identify a constellation called the Big Dipper. It takes its name form the shape a particular set of stars forms in the sky. While this artificial concept helps identify this set of stars, allowing one to become attached to this concept causes these stars to stand out and become separated from the rest of the stars. This, in turn, causes the observer to lose sight of the oneness and the wholeness of the universe.

These thoughts are helping me see the US elections in a different, and far less stressful, light. In the Presidential race between Obama and McCain, supporters of each carry perceptions that their candidate is right and the other candidate is wrong. The same can be said about the policies each side is promoting. These positions arise out of perceptions, not mindfulness. When the final winner is determined, supporters of the victor will see the outcome as a victory for all Americans, while the loser’s supporters will see only gloom and doom ahead.

So what future does exist for the United States? I am not a psychic, so I don’t know. What I do know comes from US history, particularly over the last 40 years or so. Every newly elected US President has entered office will a specific set of goals and plans to accomplish while in office. Under the US system, all such ideas must gain the approval of Congress before taking effect. More often than not, that is the black hole where Presidential ideas get lost in petty partisanship. Thus, it really doesn’t matter who wins, the new President will still have the US Congress to deal with. To the winner: good luck.

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