I came within a handsbreadth of not voting this year.
This isn’t the usual complaint that there’s no difference between the candidates. If anything, this race exhibits the clearest choice I’ve ever seen in any Presidential election during my lifetime. Anyone who has read any of my blogs knows I’m hardly undecided as to who should be elected.
Yet I almost didn’t vote, though I live in one of those “swing states” where my individual vote has vastly outsized influence.
Let me approach this by asking a question. What becomes of the King when people lose their faith in God?
During the Age of Kings in Europe, the fundamental justification for the King’s position was the so-called “divine right of rule.” Simply put, Kings had the right to rule their subjects because God granted them that right.
So what happens to Kingship when people no longer believe in God?
I am facing the same kind of issue with Democracy. The fundamental justification for Democracy is that the people have the capacity to self-govern, and therefore the right to do so.
I have lost faith in people’s capacity to self-govern, at least through the proxy system supported by voting. That faith has been systematically abused for the last thirty years, but with this election it has been strained beyond its elastic limit. Meaning it has been bent out of shape. Broken.
There may be some valid reason for voting for Mitt Romney. If there is, I haven’t yet heard it. What I have heard are plenty of reasons to not vote for Obama.
Those reasons are mostly senseless crap, absurd fabrications built on outright falsehoods, like the whole Birther conspiracy, the “Obama is a Muslim Socialist” claim, the “Death Panels” nonsense, the “Social Security is going broke” script, the “tough on illegal aliens” claptrap, a thousand-and-one cheap shots and lunatic assertions that have not so much as a toehold in the real world.
Obama has in fact done an exemplary job as President, provided that you ignore his secret compact with space aliens to turn our children into homosexual cannibal Muslim terrorists, or any of the other crackpot or merely disingenuous things the Foxists claim.
By contrast, Romney has by all reasonable lights disqualified himself from the race. He flagrantly contradicts himself in every speech he makes — not picayune inconsistencies, but full about-face reversals. Will he urge Congress to raise taxes on the rich, or lower them? No one knows. Will he urge Congress to raise taxes on the middle class, or lower them? No one knows. Will he seek to eviscerate Social Security, or repair it? No one knows. Will he invade Iran? No one knows.
The only consistency Mitt Romney brings to this campaign is his manly chin.
Last Spring I called him a cartoon character: he has since become a random spray of pastel colors, a Rorschach blot that a thousand people can stare at and think they see a thousand different things. He’s clearly a political opportunist of the worst stripe. A man who will, at the end of his presidency, say the same thing GW Bush actually said of his presidency: “Yeah, it was great, I was famous and powerful.”
How can anyone take this man seriously? How can anyone trust him as far as they can throw a cement truck?
Yet as we approach election day, the race is neck-and-neck, with less than a percentage point standing between the two candidates.
What that means, mathematically, is that the next four years of the presidency will be chosen randomly. It will depend on local weather. It will depend on local epidemics of colds or flu. It will depend on a handful of boxes of ballots “conveniently misplaced” in Ohio or Florida. It will depend on traffic jams and marital spats and children’s sniffles.
We could have flipped a damned coin, for all meaning contained in this election.
There are elections where this situation might be justified. This is not one of those elections.
So here’s the nub of the matter. If this election actually represented The People competently governing themselves, it would be a slam-dunk: 80% for Obama, the 20% fringe — there is always a 20% fringe — for Romney. All 538 electoral votes would go to Obama. The message to the Republican Party would be clear: next time, give us a real candidate, not a cartoon character. And by the way, the whole RNC is fired. For incompetence.
This 50%-50% split tells me that The People simply can’t tell the difference between spit and Shinola. Worse, they apparently can’t even discern where their own self-interest lies: give them the key to the bank vault, and they’ll stick it in a light socket. Or up their nose.
Such people cannot self-govern.
What then becomes of Democracy when faith in self-governance fails?
I’ve actually recognized this voting issue for decades: that all my efforts to become an “informed voter” are for naught, because my “informed vote” will be buried by ten thousand votes cast by people who thought that a candidate’s tie color in a debate made him look “less presidential.” I might as well pick a team, just like everyone else does, and cheer them on through victory and defeat. As though wars and laws and economies and national direction are the same as football games.
Instead, I’ve gone through the charade of trying to be an informed voter, year after year, regardless of how angry or sad or philosophical this has made me. I’ve done this for a simple personal reason.
The day I stop casting informed votes is the day I can no longer pretend that this is my government. It is also the day that I can no longer pretend that this is my country.
It is, instead, the country I happen to live in, and the government I happen to live under.
That’s always been the reality, after all. But the fiction of some kind of ownership and participation was important to me, emotionally important, so I observed the formal rites of participation to maintain the illusion.
I don’t think I can keep up the pretense any longer.
This isn’t my country, nor my government. It never has been. It’s just a country, and a government. On Tuesday the Chief Executive for that government will be selected randomly, by a multi-billion-dollar coin toss, between an experienced candidate with a solid track record and a prevaricating cartoon character with a manly chin.
There’s definitely some grieving for me to do, here.
In the end, though, I think this will be a good thing for me. Clinging to illusions rarely comes to a happy ending.
We’ll see what the next few years bring. Perhaps I’ll be able to continue to vote the same way I observe banking holidays: most times, I don’t even know the name of the holiday, much less what it is about, but I’ll gladly lift a pint to Saint Annuity, whoever that is.
I think my only voting strategy from here out, should I choose to vote at all, will be to vote against bat-shit crazy. Not that I have anything against bat-shit crazy, per se. In the right environment — like Burning Man — it can be delightful. But not in politics.
That will make voting easy for the next decade or two. The Democrats have their flaws, but the Republicans have a patented franchise on bat-shit crazy. The fact that Karl Rove, chief architect of this year’s bat-shit, has managed to put a cartoon character within a percentage point of the presidency means he isn’t going to get fired any time soon. We’ll see more of this.
I doubt I’ll need to vote anything but a straight Democratic ticket for the remainder of my life.
And in the meantime, the government I live under in the country I live in will stagger on down its drunk’s walk into whatever random future awaits us.
Dear Joe, this is exactly why the country we happen to live in so desperately needs your vote. If everyone were able to “act as if” their vote counted, maybe it really would. That’s what a republic (not a democracy!) like ours is supposed to do.
And, as a republic, we are supposed to have a kind of hybrid system somewhere between the divine right of kings and the unfiltered whims of the masses. Our “natural nobility”, based on intellect and morality (and money, but that is what money is supposed to be based on too), are supposed to fill our Senate and electoral college (aka House of Lords). Then “our betters” are supposed to look out for minority rights and protect us from unnecessary government intervention and mob rule. Sigh. I love the lost idealism of the 18th century.
As for “The message to the Republican Party would be clear: next time, give us a real candidate, not a cartoon character. And by the way, the whole RNC is fired. For incompetence.” — Right on! It is truly amazing that they have not been able to find a single candidate who can pose as a sane human being for a few months. Boggles the mind and ruins the country. We must have a loyal opposition for the good health of our nation and we haven’t had one for decades.
Keep voting, please. Encourage your friends and neighbors and family members to vote too, no matter which candidates or issues they support. Most of them will try to vote for the lesser of bat-shits. Besides, the races for county commissioner and regent of the university had some very interesting candidates. And the issue/amendments are always worth weighing in on.
After all, ours is “the worst form of government except for all the others that have been tried.” Welcome to America, land of the marginally less oppressed.
Thank you for your comments, Ivy.
The quote you cite — “the worst form of government except for all the others that have been tried” — is attributed to Sir Winston Churchill, speaking to the British House of Commons in 1947. He wasn’t referring to the US American system, and certainly not to the US American system of 2012.
I would dearly love to hear what Sir Winston would have to say to Mitt Romney, Karl Rove, and the modern Republican Party.
I don’t doubt he’d have some choice words for me, as well. Or perhaps not.
I think the way forward requires dispensing with some harmful illusions.