A Patriot Act

Photograph by fotosearch

As I type these words, it is July 4— a day filled with bunting, parades, hot dogs, and political candidates slyly impugning one another’s patriotism. It is also a day to contemplate what this country of ours owes us, and what we owe it. The former has been the subject of such great debate during the endless presidential race that I’m going to leave it alone; for this moment, at least, let’s lay down our arms (and pick up our cherry bombs). But the latter is very much on my mind, thanks to Paul Burka’s piece in this issue (“ State of Play”). Paul observes, correctly, that Barack Obama’s chances of winning Texas’s 34 electoral votes are between the proverbial slim and none, no matter how many paid staffers or amped-up volunteers the Illinois senator dispatches here. To the extent that Obama has even a hair’s breadth chance, and that his showing, good or bad, will affect the outcome of down-ballot races, it is all about turnout, about how many allegedly red-white-and-blue-blooded Texans drag their lazy duffs to the polls.

Voting is the most democratic of acts, and we are nothing if not proud to brag about our democratic proclivities. So it’s fair to ask why an alarming number of us are unwilling to avail ourselves of the right to choose the hearty souls who’ll lead us for two, four, or six years. This is a serious enough business that the mere thrusting into the air of purple-ink-stained fingers by Iraqi voters was viewed as a validation of our rationale for war in the Middle East. “We will succeed because the Iraqi people value their own liberty, as they showed the world last Sunday,” George W. Bush proclaimed in his 2005 State of the Union. “Americans recognize that spirit of liberty, because we share it.”

And yet sharing it is not the same

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