THE BLOG
07/11/2010 04:27 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Merit is Not a Dirty Word

This Thanksgiving weekend, as I watch events unfold abroad, I'm grateful election time is over. I don't miss the comedy, the verbs gouged and adjectives gutted, the nouns torn at the seams and fashioned into slogans. Before November 5, the assumption was that the electorate preferred relating to the candidates to making sure they possessed the right qualities to lead. Drop the final 'g' from your gerunds, my friend, and you too can prove just how much you understand the needs of the country! Substance was traded in for populist appeal. That was before November 5 and I give thanks.

We no longer have to witness McCain, a multi-millionaire war hero and senator, and Obama, an ivy league-educated lawyer, professor and junior senator, look solemnly at reporters and, lest they be labeled elitist, insist they are the most regular of the regular. Nor do we have to watch Sarah Palin, with her pointy finger and false dichotomies, unblinkingly accept a seat on the express train to the White House in the name of gender equality. Before November 5, if anyone dared to utter any objection to Palin, supporters would claim that she was more qualified than Obama because she'd made more "executive decisions." Using the same reasoning, the president of the Hair Club For Men would also be more qualified.

The word "exotic" was put to the test, which was, apparently, good for fruit, vacations, and nude dancers, but not for candidates running for president. An Obama victory proved that his exotic qualities were not the cause for concern that Pat Buchanan and others had hoped. We no longer have to endure spurious claims of "socialism" and I note that, as Obama chooses his economic team, nobody is accusing him of being a socialist now.

In the end, there was only so much we could take. On November 5 we ran for the theater exit. We declared that we like intelligence, hard work and consideration; when words mean something, when the capacity to communicate is respected. Sense was restored. Demagoguery was packed up in the trunk with the rest of the costumes.

As we now watch President-elect Obama appoint his cabinet, I think we can agree that the "Regular Guy" standard should go the way of the sub-prime mortgage. After November 5, we no longer look to some stranger who claims to be a plumber to help us assess which economic road is best. Why did we before?

Followers of Lee Atwater view politics as a game to be won at all costs. Maybe they didn't play the best game this year. Maybe the reason this kind of cynicism didn't win has less to do with voters who saw through the pandering and more to do with an economy in dire straits. You can manipulate an electorate only for so long. If people are losing their homes, they can no longer be played like fiddles.

Maybe there's a deeper reason. When anything goes and no one is concerned about language, a kind of word deflation occurs that is dangerous in bleak times. Perhaps we felt it in our bones. Without respect for language, there is no compass, no north and south. We need words to help guide us. There was no more accurate measurement with which to assess which candidate was better qualified in this election than how each candidate used words to communicate who he was. One candidate did so thoughtfully and honestly; the other tried to use words to create the illusion that he was no better than we are. He lost.

When my Romanian parents arrived in the United States, they knew that the best way to unlock a country was by learning its language. I still have the dictionary they used over the years. Sometimes I'll come across a word or two underlined. I take these markings as a testament to their wonder about the place in which they chose to build a new life. Appreciation for words is an investment in a better future.

Given the choice between feeling validated about the place into which we were born and feeling assured about the future of the country in which we live we chose the latter. Even now, looking back on the newspapers and magazines that litter my floor, there is a basic premise that has changed since November 5: merit is no longer a dirty word.

Happy Thanksgiving.