Betting on better Days

Posted Nov. 24, 2008, at 7:24 p.m.

Analyzing the belief system and thought process that led a Standish store owner to host a betting pool on when President-elect Obama would be assassinated is about as useful as trying to find meaning in the bird droppings on your car’s windshield. But like the windshield splatter, such aberrant, mutated thinking must be dealt with, one way or another.

Anger, like smoke in a burning building, always finds a way out. And anger is what led to such outrageous acts as the Standish betting pool and the hanging effigies found around the state in recent weeks.

Anger about election results is expected, especially after a presidential campaign cycle as long as the one that just concluded. Usually, that anger expresses itself in claims about voter fraud or unfair advantages with the media and campaign funds.

Had Democratic candidate John Edwards won his party’s nomination and then the general election, there would have been cries of youth bias, and the losing party would have said the majority of the electorate was shallow because it was swayed by a pretty face and good hair. But when the winning candidate is of part-African heritage, it was only a matter of time before the anger found release in stereotypes.

And so, the specter of lynching is raised, and the horrors of 1968, when African-American leader the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, are dug up.

These all-too-familiar wheel ruts for postelection anger to fall into must be filled in for good. Such extreme reaction to an election is, removed from the passions of the hour, absurd.

Although pundits were fond of saying the 2008 presidential election was the most important in their lives (didn’t they say the same thing four years ago?), the U.S. has seen more critical presidential choices.

The election of 1828, when Andrew Jackson defeated incumbent John Quincy Adams, comes to mind. And talk about remaking the playing field – before the election, property and religious qualifications for voting were removed in most of the country bringing more common men into the electorate. Once elected, President Jackson, in a history-changing move, refused to renew the charter of the Bank of the United States.

Abraham Lincoln’s election in 1860 was made possible when the Democratic Party split into northern and southern factions; the northern party nominated Stephen A. Douglas, and the southern chose John C. Breckinridge. To further split the vote, the Constitutional Union party put John Bell on the ballot.

That election led to a bloody civil war.

In the 20th century, Franklin Roosevelt in 1940 ran for and won an unprecedented third term. Such a move could have been seen by some as a power grab, a move toward a dictatorship. But the country survived, and the ship of state righted itself when a constitutional amendment was adopted limiting presidents to two terms.

Instead of betting that the absolute worst of America will rear its head, a far safer bet is that the nation will embrace a leader — of any national heritage or political party — who charts a clear course for a brighter future.

And as a historical footnote, it’s worth repeating what Mr. Obama said on a Bangor radio show in February, when asked by the host — shamefully — about the likelihood of being assassinated if he were elected. The last president to face an assassination attempt, Mr. Obama noted, was Ronald Reagan. What were the odds on that?

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