Classical mythology tells the tale of the hero Hercules sent out to perform arduous tasks to atone for crimes he committed in a fit of insanity. His fifth such labor involved the first-ever cleaning of the massive Augean stables, stocked with 1,000 supernatural cattle, possessing an unusual ability to produce manure. Hercules was offered a bonus if he could do it in one day. Applying both his wits and his incredible strength, the hero diverted two rivers through the filthy stables, purifying them with the might of the rushing waters.
Tomorrow is Election Day and many voters are angry, looking for work and ready to take on some house-cleaning. The Democratic Party has controlled the executive branch in North Carolina for 20 years and polls indicate the electorate will divert the rivers of their wrath through many offices of entrenched power in Raleigh. Other outcomes are less certain.
Lincoln County voters could move for wholesale change in the Board of Education; and according to the script Republican party leaders are pushing in this officially nonpartisan election, that will happen. As recently as a month ago, the odds appeared just as good that the incumbent faction would retain control. But the withdrawal of one incumbent, a registered Republican who has mostly voted with the Democrats and who is not backed by his own party, means the GOP’s vetted candidate, Tony Jenkins, will take the seat and ensure them at least of a narrow majority. Voters will decide how much more they get or how much Democrats hold on to. Whether the clouds circling after supposed campaign improprieties committed by Democratic candidates will result in a cloudburst or merely overcast skies remains to be seen.
Looking further out, most polls predict Democrats’ efforts to retake the N.C. House and Senate and the U.S. House will fail. Republican efforts to take the U.S. Senate might have a slightly better chance, but too many races are considered too close to call for any predictions better than guesses.
The big question remains the White House. Four years ago, voters turned the tide against Republicans, blaming the Bush administration for the country’s economic woes and battlefield stalemates. Voters are, if anything, even angrier this year. But they are not united in issuing any mandate. The popular vote for president is expected to be very close. The decisive electoral vote is much harder to predict. President Obama appears to have a slight edge, but Mitt Romney’s campaign has been showing signs of momentum in recent weeks. Either candidate could emerge with either a slight electoral win or with narrow victories in several states that add up to a wider margin.
Looking again at the expected close popular vote and the divisions among us as we select a president, don’t anticipate a cleansing flood but a faint trickle propelling the victor. And the winner will still have the same mess to clean up. On top of which, whichever president we get will deal with a divided America, nearly half of which will still be at least as angry as they were before and very dissatisfied with the outcome.
What may need to be cleaned up the most is our attitudes toward each other. As Americans, it’s important that on Wednesday morning, we recognize that we sometimes disagree and move on. That doesn’t mean we’re passively going to be fooled by the hogwash still emanating from Washington or Raleigh. But it does mean that we need to learn to live together and respect others’ opinions while trying to find common ground and solutions on which everyone can agree.
And that may be the most Herculean task of all.