Having just observed dozens of my fellow citizens standing in line for more than an hour to vote, I started to feel good about the country again. Some 430,000 Marylanders took advantage of five days of early voting this year, so many that Sandy Rosenberg, the veteran state delegate from Baltimore, says he'll be filing a bill in the next legislative session to expand the opportunities for early voting.
I drove away from the polls thinking: Well, we've been through an ugly, money-soaked political season, but people still embrace and respect the process. Look at us! We are a civilized people who suffer fools, then settle our differences at the polls. We might be ruled by a powerful economic elite, but every adult — from 1 percenter to 47 percenter — gets to vote.
We are a smart and informed people who value reason, logic and fairness.
Don't worry: My lapse into treacly idealism only lasted about 10 minutes.
"My God," an hysterical woman complained on C-SPAN Radio, "beer being made in the White House ... ." The caller had just listed numerous complaints about President Barack Obama, her descriptions of him running between ungodly and disastrous, with a side trip into unAmerican. You know: the usual stuff. But this was the first time I heard a complaint about White House Honey Ale.
The beer, of course, was President Obama's idea. He bought, with his own money, a beer-making kit and handed it off to staff, and the rest is historical footnote — the first beer known to have been brewed in the White House.
Among the people who have shared a bottle of Honey Ale with President Obama: U.S. Marine Sgt. Dakota Meyer, winner of the Medal of Honor for life-saving bravery under fire in Afghanistan. The sergeant asked specifically to have a brewski with his commander-in-chiefski
I add the last fact just to show that having a beer is an American ritual in the land of the free and the home of the brave. I should also note that I have never, in the course of my 11-president lifetime, heard someone complain about alcoholic beverages in the White House.
Of course, there are a lot of things we never heard before, starting with the discredited assertion that the president isn't a native-born citizen.
In fact, the angry woman on C-SPAN on Sunday morning reminded me of the birther who stood up at a town hall meeting in Delaware, six months after Obama's inauguration, and screamed, "I want my country back!"
That woman was associated with a tea party group upset with Rep. Mike Castle, the moderate (and former) Delaware Republican who had the nerve to support Obama's cap-and-trade climate-change bill. The Republican Party has generally dismissed climate change as a problem, and Mitt Romney has ridiculed Obama's attempts to deal with it. As Mike Castle learned, there's little room for compromise in national politics when the goal is to make Obama a one-term president.
The cry of that woman from the Delaware gathering has been echoed in the presidential campaign.
"On November 6, we take our country back!" Rep. Paul Ryan, the Republican vice presidential candidate, said emphatically on the stump, suggesting that the country has been in the hands of some foreign "other" rather than a man who received nearly 70 million votes in 2008. That was 10 million more than his opponent and a margin of popular victory nearly three times greater than George W. Bush's over John Kerry in 2004.
Karl Rove called Bush's second victory a mandate, a clear indication that conservatism had become the "dominant political creed in America." Furthermore, Rove said, "Those who oppose this agenda are in a difficult position. They're attempting to block reforms to systems that almost every serious-minded person concedes need reform. ... That's not a good place to be in American politics."
Funny, there was no such concession to mandate by Rove and the Republicans when Obama swept to an even bigger victory four years later.
But you know all this, right? We've lived through it. And we've lived through the worst economic collapse since the Depression.
We come now, bruised and jaded, to Election Day USA, with the hope that we can renew democracy.
For Marylanders, in particular, it's a day of civic richness, when we get to vote on allowing gay and lesbian couples to be married, on allowing Dream Act kids to attend college at state-resident tuition rates, on allowing more casino gambling in the state. We even get to say whether we like or detest the state's new congressional district map, drawn by Democrats for the purpose of making Maryland even more of a blue state than it already is.
Most important, on this day, we get to push back against all the big money that drives the nation's political agenda — the super-PAC cash, the obnoxious casino millions — and we get to decide whether we want a president who drinks beer or one who doesn't.