In Defense of Dubious Alternatives

Dear Will:

Across the room I can see my Voter Information pamphlet. It’s been sitting there for days, unopened. Every time I glance that way it fills me with dread. I have put off quite successfully what I can now put off no longer—I must, it seems, set aside some time to read up on the initiatives and try to determine which side’s rhetoric is less difficult to believe. Then I must go through the ballot and try to decide whether I should vote for the incompetent incumbent or the unqualified challenger. (Or is it the unqualified incumbent and the incompetent challenger? I can never remember.)

As you can probably tell, I have become a bit of a political cynic, but I wasn’t always this way. I came out of high school filled with idealistic political zeal, excited to exercise my franchise and support the democracy. Alas, the first election in which I could vote featured a gubernatorial race between the hyper-liberal guy-in-office and his super-conservative wannabe challenger. As I considered my options, it was quickly apparent that I didn’t want either of those guys for my governor. Since that moment of disappointment I have lived through dozens of elections characterized by many such dubious alternatives. And I hate it.

Part of my problem, quite clearly, is that I keep hoping for someone who represents me as opposed to some guy who primarily represents the various interests who are willing to fund his campaign. I’m not happily Republican or Democrat, I’m afraid, but rather some sort of strange hodgepodge of beliefs and passions. I’m an actual moderate rather than a candidate pretending to be one, the result being that I agree with some things, disagree with others, and can’t find a single politico who is willing to say that I’m right. It seems, anyway, that the exigencies of the modern campaign (fundraising, primarily) make it impossible for any aspiring politician to say what most reasonable people already know: that half of each party’s platform is hooey. And that polarization of positions is exacerbated by the misrepresentations and falsities on which both parties rely in order to gather votes through advertising: Too often our representatives can’t do the right thing because they know it will be twisted and used against them later on. So when I vote, I either get the baggage of one party or the baggage of the other and generally come away from the polls feeling disgruntled and somewhat disenfranchised.

But I do keep voting. Every election, no matter how many Tom Haydens or Michael Huffingtons appear on the ballot, I march down to the polling station and give it my best shot. Even though I sometimes wonder if it really makes any difference, I feel it my duty because of my respect for the institution. I love my country and believe with great passion in the principles upon which it was founded. I truly believe that the Constitution is an inspired document and remain amazed at how well it is holding us all together in spite of the crazy turns our nation has taken during the last 200 years.

I apologize if any of the preceding rant offends you. (I got a little worked up there, didn’t I?) Obviously, this is a bit of a sore subject for me to address. But when I look around the world and see so many places in which democracy has not yet taken root, I am reminded once again that it is a divine privilege to cast a vote—even when you’re dissatisfied with your options. I hope you feel the same. See you at the polls.

PW

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