The other day, I was having coffee in a café in Menlo Park, California -- a small town in the heart of Silicon Valley -- and overheard a horrifying conversation.
It was late morning on Tuesday. Four mothers, appearing to be in their early forties, had gathered to catch up. The subject on their minds: the election. They were all Obama supporters. They were outraged by the way some women seemed to support Palin based on feeling they could relate to her rather than on her qualifications.
"If your house is on fire," one woman asked, "do you want a fireman you can relate to, or one who is qualified to put out the fire? If you need triple bypass surgery, do you want a surgeon you can have a beer with, or one with a successful track record of curing the problem?"
I thought this to be an astute critique about the way we vote. And at the risk of being unpopular, I think the critique extends to the way we vote for candidates on both sides of the political aisle
But then they continued.
"I'm leaving the country if McCain and Palin win," one commented.
"It's awful," responded another. "I can't stand this country anymore. That's why I don't stand for the national anthem anymore. And I don't say the pledge of allegiance, and I don't let my children do it either."
"Do they still make them do it in the schools? I thought they'd finally stopped that," said the third.
It was all I could do to keep my jaw from dropping.
Here were four women, who were all well-dressed, educated, and articulate. They all seemed to be well off enough to have a few hours to spend with friends on a weekday for the sake of catching up. They seemed, in other words, to be some of the people most benefiting from the access to opportunity that this country has provided.
It wasn't just how bratty they sounded that bothered me. What really bothered me was these women's blindness to just how bad things really are here.
Let's get real, folks. There are a lot of things that are severely broken about our country that neither John McCain nor Barack Obama are going to be able to fix -- or even have the bandwidth to address. What we've seen in the financial markets is just the tip of the iceberg -- and no one is really sure yet just how big that particular iceberg is. Then there's our education system, which is broken. And our healthcare system, which is broken. The list goes on.
Don't assume you can leave for a few years and expect that things will get better when your side is elected to power, because they probably won't. There are too many fires burning to have one individual fireman put them all out.
No matter who is elected in a few weeks time, the future of our country is still going to come down to us. Ordinary people working more diligently than ever to make a difference. Now, more than ever, we need everyone to participate in finding solutions. Now, more than ever, we can not afford to sit back and expect others to solve our problems for us.
This country, which I have been raised to respect and admire, has lost its compass. And we need each and every one of you out there to help us restore our sense of direction. If you care enough to complain about the election, then care enough to help find innovative solutions to the multiple crises we face -- from global warming to our banking system.
They're complicated issues. Issues which require multiple cracks in the wall from thousands of different stakeholders -- business, government, non-profit groups, and private citizens. Get involved through whatever means possible- through your work, through volunteering, through political advocacy, through staring your own enterprise or community group.
But please, put aside your disdain and anger for "those other voters" who don't think the way you do. By buying into the myth of two Americas, we are buying into the same culture wars that are tearing our country apart, and distracting us from the real problems at hand. We have a shared future that is bigger than infinitely more important than the emotional tricks played on us by pollsters and political strategists. We need you here to fight for that future.
Don't get me wrong. This election is more important than any I have seen in my lifetime. This election really, really matters. So work all you can to see the candidates you support make their way into power.
But then, come November 5, roll up your sleeves and keep going. Don't pack your bags and move to Canada if you're unhappy with the results. And don't think the problems are solved even if your candidates win.
Either way, it's just the beginning.
And we need you.