February 17, 2008

I’m Voting for No. 6


It was a dreary, wet morning, but I headed out shortly after nine for the grocery store. I needed beer and paper towels (in the event that I spilled the beer). I make a similar trip two or three times a week, and usually the only obstacles I need to worry about are the strollers. Dozens and dozens of strollers.

            That day was different. It was what the politicians and the media have dubbed “Super Tuesday.” That meant a polling place had been set up in the church between me and the grocery store. And that meant there were at least half a dozen people gathered on the sidewalk outside the polling place. They all wore yellow plastic vests and clutched handfuls of damp leaflets.

            For once, I was able to use the stroller population to my advantage, as a couple of self-important “socially concerned” mothers had distracted the canvassers, allowing me to duck past unimpeded. Ten minutes later, however, on my way back from the store, I was alone, and the canvassers were waiting.

            The six of them had spread out evenly across the sidewalk, forming a human fence of yellow plastic and leaflets. I paused, contemplated crossing the street to avoid them, then decided to forge on ahead. I was carrying two heavy grocery bags (turns out I needed more than beer and paper towels), the hat was pulled low over my eyes and the cigarette was burning between my lips. Surely, I figured, all those things combined should be enough to get them to back off.

            Well, I’m an idiot that way.

            I was still fifteen feet away from them when the chant began:

            “Gonna vote today? . . . Gonna vote today? . . . Gonna vote today? . . . Gonna vote today?

            As I tried to maneuver between them with my two heavy grocery bags, the chant only grew louder and more frantic.

            “Gonna vote today?! GONNA VOTE TODAY?!”

            Hands began shoving leaflets in front of my downcast eyes, only disorienting me further. I wanted to swing on them, or lunge at the nearest asshole. Then I remembered the beer, and didn’t want to risk losing any of it.

            Head down, I pushed my way through the line and broke into the open. Then I heard a single smug, whining voice behind me:

            “Thaaank youuu!” it shouted.

            I wanted to turn back on him, plant a boot in the middle of his self-righteous face, but again I considered the welfare of the beer, and decided it was best to get it home safe, lock the door behind me, and stay there.

            So I’m not much of a voting man. That may well make me a bad citizen, but I’m afraid I’m beyond caring at this point.

            When I was a kid, I was fascinated by the political process. I watched the conventions gavel to gavel, and was absolutely captivated. But as I grew older, and read more, and watched more, that bright youthful enthusiasm and idealism darkened to a gray cynicism.

            Oh, I know all the arguments—that a democracy only remains a democracy if the people vote, that if the people don’t vote then the special interests, the corporations, the insane True Believers will decide how the country is run.

            Valid arguments, too. And I would like to believe in the system, I really would. I would like to believe that my vote counts, and that there’s a candidate out there who really wants to make this country a better place, who has our interests in mind, has real vision, and isn’t just a walking pack of wolverine lies in a mad grab for personal power. I’d like to believe that there is a marked difference between Hillary Clinton, say, and Mike Huckabee. After all the debates, all the news coverage, all the ads, I would like to be able to explain how one of the front-runners differs from any of the others.

            But I just can’t.

            The only difference, in fact, that I can discern between Republicans and Democrats anymore is that Democrats tend to be a little subtler. The Republicans will set up a domestic spying program and call it “Total Information Access.” The Democrats will do the same thing, but they’ll call it “The Deadbeat Dads Law.” That sounds so much nicer, doesn’t it? Who could argue with that?

            It’s a point I’ve made too many times in the past—I’m suspicious of anyone who even expresses the desire to run for president (or any political office, for that matter).

            I think the U.S. Constitution is the finest and most brilliant political plan ever conceived. But sadly, given the way the electoral and political processes have evolved over the past 230 years, we’re left with two post-election options in the early 21st century: things will either stay exactly the same, or they’ll get worse. History has shown the latter to be the usual course. And I’m sorry, but I’d rather not be a party to that.

            Could a million extra votes have prevented the 2000 election from turning out the way it did? I think we all know better than that—that was a done deal long before the voting machines were set up. The popular vote no longer means a damn thing. The Powers That Be have just kept it around to make the people feel good about themselves.

            My attitude toward voting can be traced back to two sources. First, there was an off-the-cuff remark made by Emma Goldman (and I’m paraphrasing here): “Voting is the real opium of the masses in this country. Every four years we deaden the pain.”

            The other is a surprisingly anarchistic 1932 Betty Boop cartoon, Betty Boop for President, in which her opponent is a stick figure named “Mr. Nobody.” His musical political platform opens:

            Who’ll make your taxes light? Mr. Nobody!

            Who’ll protect the voter’s right? Mr. Nobody!

            That sums it up as well as anything, I think.

            I have nothing against people who do vote (so long as they don’t harass me on the sidewalk about it). God bless ‘em. They can pretend that they believe in something for awhile. They can pretend the system works, and that the real decisions aren’t made by CEOs and nut job Political Action Committees. I’m not about to take that away from them. But until something real comes along (and I can’t honestly say I’m expecting that anytime soon), I think I’ll stay in here with my beer and my smokes and watch the continuing erosion of a once great idea.


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