They say Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana should do pretty well if it doesn’t rain too badly today. And that’s probably true of all our Democratic candidates. When turn-out is high, Democrats win. (Republican candidates tend to have the money. ’60 Minutes’ reported Sunday that Texas Senate candidate Ron Kirk was being outspent five to one by his Republican opponent. But Democrats tend to have the voters, if they can be motivated to go vote.)

I mention Louisiana because I am reading Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose, the story of Lewis and Clark. (More accurately, it is being read to me, on my tiny MP3 player, as I do my big five-mile walk.) As you will recall, Thomas Jefferson recruited Merriweather Lewis (and Lewis recruited Clark) to explore the Louisiana territory that, in 1803 or so (one of the problems with an audible book is that it’s hard to flip through the pages to recall a fact), Jefferson bought from the French for $15 million, all in.

Originally, the purchase was to cover New Orleans only. But it wound up covering all of Louisiana, which seemed to stretch all the way up to Canada (no one knew). It was Lewis and Clark’s assignment to explore that territory up to the headwaters of the Missouri but, more than that, to make their way West all the way to the Pacific – by water insofar as possible – a thing no Americans or Europeans had ever done.

They set out without maps, without satellite phones, without sunscreen or bug repellent or a Starbucks around every bend. (Near the end of my own grueling walk, if I am getting too dehydrated, I stop at Starbucks for a grande frappucino to go.) They encountered bears and rapids and native Americans (oh, how we treated the native Americans). They wintered in the Dakotas. And for much of the time, before they had to portage over the Rocky Mountains, they were going upstream.

It is a story of astonishing dangers, deprivation, disease and discomfort, and one marvels that Lewis and Clark and their men (and a native American woman named Sacajawea) somehow were able to succeed (the expedition took years) and at the courage and ingenuity and determination they summoned. It reminds me of the decades-earlier words of Abigail Adams that I’m fond of quoting, where she said, ‘Posterity, who are to reap the blessings, will scarcely be able to conceive the hardships and sufferings of their ancestors.’

It contrasts rather starkly with the modern-day citizen who doesn’t vote because it’s raining. Or who hasn’t registered for fear of being called for jury duty. Or who simply hasn’t learned enough of our history to understand where we fit in.


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