Voting like Lincoln

The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.

Approaching next Tuesday’s election – and thinking ahead to 2012 – I’ve often thought of these words, which President Lincoln addressed to Congress in December, 1862.  Lincoln challenged Americans to “think anew” – as we would say, “outside the box” – in order to solve an unprecedented crisis.  It was good advice – then and now.

In the last, remarkable decade of his life, Lincoln was often years ahead of his contemporaries.  Thus, in 1854, he cast aside his lifelong loyalty to the Whig Party in order to help found a new “third party” in Illinois.  This party soon merged into the Republican Party, which Lincoln led to victory in the Election of 1860.  To this day, the Republicans remain the only “third  party” to rise to major party status in American politics.

Mr.  Lincoln has been much on my mind of late, the more so after last Monday and Tuesday, when I worked on the set of “Office Seekers,” the working title of Steven Spielberg’s movie about Lincoln’s final months.

Working on a movie about those great and terrible times inevitably suggested parallels with the challenges we face today, and the best way to meet them, which, most immediately, led me back to voting on November 8.

This year, I’ve mainly followed the two Bermuda District races.  Given the gridlock in Washington, it seems that local government and our local schools will have more direct impact on our daily lives than all the sound and fury of national politics.

Looking at those two elections – and applying Mr. Lincoln’s perspective – I have two suggestions to offer.

For the Board of Supervisors, I unequivocally support Mark Fausz, founder and – until his leave of absence to campaign full-time – editor of this newspaper.

Most local citizens already know of Mark’s long involvement with preserving and strengthening Chester’s identity as a village and distinct community.  This newspaper, by itself, has played a tremendous role in that cause.  

Focusing on local history, the remarkable achievements of our neighbors, and unique local personalities, the Village News has weekly given us reason to be proud to be “from here” or “come here.”  By using a wide variety of local columnists – and welcoming contributions from all shades of opinion – this paper has made us all partners in a common enterprise.

Of course, Mark’s efforts have not stopped here.   As a founding member of the Chester Community Association, Mark has played a vital role in creating ChesterFest and the Farmers’ Market, as well as working tirelessly toward the proposed Center for the Arts.  

Of course, Mark is an underfunded independent challenging a Republican incumbent.  Reason enough, one would think, to vote for him – even if one knew nothing of Mrs. Jaeckle’s predictable record as an unwavering supporter of the County’s well-heeled and powerful interests.

But I’ll stop there.  As a part of the Village News family, it would be unseemly for me to use its pages to disparage Mark’s opponent.  My greater point – this year and in 2012 – is to consider whether we are better off supporting a partisan candidate or a genuine independent.  

Speaking only for myself – pending the emergence of one or more “third parties” to challenge the existing power structure – I’ve decided not to vote for candidates of either major party unless they are remarkable individuals.

I’m weary of partisan politics – and especially one-party government.  When I was a kid, the Democratic Party controlled Chesterfield County – lock, stock and barrel.  Then, after the migration en masse of the very conservative (and very powerful), the Republican Party controlled the County – lock, stock and barrel.  The same people remained in charge, under a new banner.  The average citizen – and the public interest – were seldom consulted.

Democrat or Republican, one-party rule leads to a sense of entitlement – an unspoken arrogance on the part of public officials which leads them to disregard public opinion and the public good – to resent any challenge from the outside as a kind of impertinence.

An independent public official simply can’t afford that sort of thinking.

Even if Mark Fausz weren’t a dedicated and tireless worker for this community, his independence alone would suffice to earn my vote.

For the School Board, some of my friends will be surprised to learn that I will vote for Carrie Coyner.  My reasons are simple.

For some years, in this column, I have argued for fundamental reform in our school system.  From smaller high schools to a regional “commonwealth school” for young people interested in public service – from reform of gifted education to better use of summer school and evening classes – I have argued that we should, in Lincoln’s words, “think anew.”

I’ve had the opportunity of talking with both Stella Edwards and Carrie Coyner.  Both are impressive, intelligent women with a demonstrated commitment to helping young people from challenging backgrounds.  Indeed, they each have so much to offer that it’s a shame we can’t elect both.

But of the two, Ms. Coyner impressed me with her openness to new ideas – and she won over me with her insistence that the Federal and state regime of standardized testing should be fought – actively and aggressively.  

Many Chesterfielders insist that we have excellent schools.  Indeed, compared with neighboring localities – except Hanover – we do.  But in today’s world, our schools no longer compete only with others in our region.  They must compete with schools in China, India, Germany, Canada, and Brazil.  

Thus far, we have not accepted that challenge.  A fierce advocate of new ideas will help us “think anew.”   Carrie Coyner strikes me as such an advocate.


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