Serenity Now.

Polls are one of those subjects that I sometimes feel lost on. Okay, scratch that, I always feel lost on them. I am no good with numbers, unless it involves giving mine to a good-looking Democrat (an oxymoron, I know, therefore it never happens), and I don't like making vast speculations. The strategy game continues to baffle me. I know nothing about VAN and I don't care to "cut turf," whatever that consists of actually doing.

So that's why I enjoy the polls over at Letters From Texas, a new political blog written by consultant Harold Cook. More often than not they make fun of situations and people who need to be made fun of -- case in point, the "Who is your favorite hot House member crush?" poll and its group of well-coiffed contenders. But last week, the mastermind behind the polls went in a different direction.

The poll question was simple, yet tragic: "If you could climb into a time machine and change the outcome of one historical event this decade, which would it be?”

These were the FUBARs offered to us by the pollster:

  1. Go back to the 2000 election, get Ralph Nader off the Florida ballot, make Al Gore the obvious winner, and prevent George W. Bush from ever becoming President.
  2. Go back to 2001 and prevent the terrorist attacks on September 11th.
  3. Go back to 2004 and warn the world about the looming tsunami, saving almost 350,000 innocent lives.
By the end of the poll, a "clear majority" of 62% had voted for option one. Tying for second, the other two choices each got 18% of the votes.

Cook very eloquently stated the following in his analysis of the poll:
The results of the poll indicate that the totality of Bush’s mistakes is far worse than the sum of its parts – if one took every ill-fated decision ever made by this administration, and added up the cost of each in terms of lives lost, it is doubtful under any measure that together they would reach the 350,000 lives lost because of the tsunami in 2004. But 62% don’t believe that’s all it’s about. They’re right.
I've thought a lot about this poll. Not because I disagree with it, but because I have come to question the motivation behind peoples' votes. I don't doubt that they see the far-reaching scope of George W. Bush's presidency and I certainly can vouch for the trickle-down effect of a President who shouldn't have been. As Al Gore stated tonight in his endorsement of Barack Obama, "Elections matter."

But aside from the far-reaching effects, there is something else in the Bush presidency that Americans -- perhaps even the world -- just can't seem to come to terms with. We stand on a mountain top, on the cusp of a new president, one who offers hope and change and the ability to move forward and look to the future. But we keep looking back, staring in our rear view mirrors and and asking ourselves what might have been, as if we just were involved in a near-fatal car wreck.

What if I hadn't put that coffee cup on the dashboard?
What if I hadn't hit the snooze button?
What if I hadn't been flipping stations when that song came on?

Sadly, even FUBAR himself can't create a time machine. We can't "what if" our way to a happy ending on this one, we just get to play the loop in our minds. Over and over. And over.

And so this morning I was reminded of something that I have heard repeated over the years, from various sources and in various settings. And it goes like this:
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
We are an America in need of serenity. We desperately want to find a foothold in this quicksand of corruption and self-satisfaction that politicians engage us in daily. We struggle, thinking that contentment is the right thing, when sometimes it is just feeding the system that corrupts us. We are emotional-consumers, consuming to make ourselves feel better as we struggle with our obese vehicles, debts and ideals.

This desperate need of serenity has been a long time in the making. You don't live in a perpetual war that is mythical in price and symbolized with colors like yellow, orange and red threat levels without developing an almost paralyzing confusion of what is right and what is wrong. We're Americans and more than that, we are human beings. We try to stymie our confusion by looking for answers, seeking to find definition for what is "Terror" and what is "Tyranny" and knowing that one can perpetuate the other, but one cannot always stop the other. We look inward, we put on the mental loop, replaying every "My fellow American" and "God Bless you, and this country," and we try to discern the "what if" from the "what can I do?"

And there, in that moment of introspection, may we all find our serenity. Because we can grant ourselves the serenity to accept the things we cannot change -- we cannot change world-quaking tsunamis that kill hundreds of thousands of people; martyrs boarding planes and committing murder in the name of their god -- and the courage to change the things we can -- we can change a presidency that should never have been allowed to be, the system that allowed it to happen, the actions that were allowed to be made.

But all of this pales in importance to granting ourselves the wisdom to know the difference. Wisdom comes from two places: our experiences and our hearts. We can take this experience -- this eight years of horror -- and take our hearts, which are battered and pained and torn -- and create the wisdom to know the difference.

In that wisdom, we are able to look at the present situation of the world and say that we know, beyond an article of impeachment, that in those three scenarios offered to us by Cook, something happened. But only one of them did we have the power to change. Only one of them can we still change. And there, somewhere under a ballot box or in a hanging chad, rests serenity.

At the Texas Observer-Molly Ivins awards dinner I went to last Thursday, a pile of pots and pans rested upon every table. They were symbolic of the final sentence of her final column, when she urged us to protest the war in Iraq, writing, "We need people in the streets, banging pots and pans and demanding, 'Stop it, now!'" Molly Ivins saw the chance for our serenity. She saw what we could change, if we had the courage and wisdom.

Eight years, thousands of lives, billions of dollars and many tragic moments later, we have the wisdom to know the difference between that which we cannot change and that which we can.
And so the real question, our ultimate poll, will be this: What will we do with our wisdom?
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