Upon considering the current presidential election, a surprising source of illumination comes from the world of wands and dragons, castles and pumpkin juice.
It is, of course, the world of Harry Potter.
Now, we Muggles - nonmagic folk - may find it a bit of a stretch to think that the world of J.K. Rowling has anything to do with the Republicans and Democrats of the 2008 U.S. presidential election. But then we'd be wrong.
For instance, I'd love to plop the Sorting Hat on both candidates' heads. Like or dislike John McCain, I don't think there's any arguing that he'd belong to Gryffindor House - known for its bravery. Obama's a bit trickier. His supporters might argue he belongs in Ravenclaw House - known for its intelligence - or Gryffindor - again, the bravery. I have a sneaking suspicion he's more ruthless than he lets on - and also more pointedly ambitious. Slytherin House it is, then. And that's the magic - pardon the pun - of the Sorting Hat. Plop that old hat down on one's head, and it announces your strengths and character - both what it is, and what you want it to be. If only we had a Sorting Hat instead of caucuses. It'd make it much easier to detect what kind of person a candidate is, because that, not even party alignment can tell.
The trouble-making reporter Rita Skeeter, who shows up in "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire," also came to mind this week. Her "Quick Quotes Quill" whips up quotes out of "er's" and "um's." Let me introduce you:
Rita Skeeter: So tell me, Harry. Here you sit, a mere boy of 12...
Harry: - I'm 14...
Rita Skeeter: - about to compete against three students who are not only vastly more emotionally mature than yourself, but who've mastered spells that you wouldn't attempt in your dizziest daydreams. Concerned?
Harry: I dunno, I haven't really thought about it...
Rita Skeeter: Because you're no ordinary boy of 12 are you?
Rita Skeeter: Your story's legend. Do you think it was the trauma of your past that made you so keen to enter such a dangerous tournament?
Harry: No, I didn't enter.
Rita Skeeter: Of course you didn't.
Rita Skeeter: Everyone loves a rebel, Harry. Speaking of your parents, were they alive, how do you think they'd feel? Proud? Or concerned that your attitude shows, at best, a pathological need for attention? The worst, psychotic death wish.
[Harry glances at Rita's notes]
Harry: Hey, my eyes aren't glistening with the ghosts of my past!
Something clicked this week as I watched, with raised eyebrow, the press pull some very familiar Rita Skeeter moves. Although it's true this came to mind while listening to a transcript of Katie Couric trying to win back her career, I mean interview John McCain and Sarah Palin, I'm sure it's not limited to the beleaguered CBS correspondent.
(Here I have to add a long parenthesis: I've heard a lot of complaining about Gwen Ifill this past week, particularly from conservatives. But she handled herself with fairness and dignity during last night's Vice Presidential debate. Despite the fact that she has a forthcoming book on race and politics, with Obama's name in the title, she was an extremely fair moderator with both candidates. Well done, Gwen Ifill. She handled Joe Biden with a certain acute laser mode that perhaps reminded him he had two women to contend with on camera, leading to his ill-timed emotional response during a discussion on the economy, that it was hard being a single dad, and that men know what it's like, too. He also made the dubious move of talking about how well off he is now, but how he used to know what it was like to be you and me. I felt a wall of separation go up between the audience and him at that moment. )
In "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," Harry faces a disciplinary hearing for performing a Patronus charm to protect his cousin - a Muggle. He is underage, and the Ministry of Magic has been undergoing a political face-lift, denying, as Harry knows for certain, that evil Lord Voldemort has returned. (It wouldn't be good for re-election.) So when Harry shows up, nervous and fearful, for his hearing, he finds that it has been conveniently moved at the last minute, and that the time has been changed - to five minutes ago. Professor Dumbledore, his advocate, outmaneuvers the Prime Minister's tactic by saying calmly that it was lucky he arrived at the Ministry three hours early.
And swiftly, the Ohio situation comes to mind. Republicans had to sue to get the highly partisan Secretary of State to accept applications for early or absentee voting. All Ohio requires on these is a signature, and some verifying information like the last four digits of one's Social Security number. But the Secretary of State decided also that if a tiny box at the top wasn't checked, all those forms should be returned as invalid. Ohio's Supreme Court has ruled against the Secretary of State, but what this has cost in the mean time is hard to tell.
Human nature, politics, questionable motives - some things, whether in the wizarding world or out of it, stay the same. J.K. Rowling shows an enormous depth of keen insight into why we act the way we do. Hopefully, in the upcoming election of the century - for we will have either an African-American president, or a female vice-president - as little corruption as possible will take place, on the part of the candidates, the press, and the voters. Luckily, imagination runs free, and whether flourishes in the world of Harry Potter, or envisions a country bettered by government rather than hindered, we all have the freedom to picture a better place.