Friday, January 16, 2004


Maybe you'll find this provocative, but I end with a question and would love to have your answers, which I'll be sure to publish here, unedited and without comment. If you choose to reply on your own blog, please let me know and I'll link to it.

Here goes...

I've never voted.


I think that, with my entrance into the blogosphere, I've become a bit more politically aware and have started to form actual political opinions-- something I can't say I had even as recently as January 2003. I still don't consider myself a rightie or a leftie when it comes to politics, and I'm still very much what I was: a political cynic. But I'm beginning to admit to myself, rather grudgingly, that politics matters, and it's one of the grand arenas in which we can watch theory and practice play themselves out.

The cynicism is easy, because the historical data support cynicism so eloquently: same shit, different day. Always and everywhere. This isn't to deny that there's a such thing as progress (such as what we see happening in America), but you've got to have your head up your ass not to have noticed that historical movements can be represented as ebb and flow, waves and cycles, ups and downs. I don't see an American eschaton à la Bill Whittle's rather romantic vision; America, like everything else, isn't forever. Zooming in a bit more closely to the American situation, I can say that the hegemony of a given political party or ideology isn't forever, either. And in the meantime, the politicians on all sides of the table exhibit much the same baseness, avarice, and pettiness that keeps me secure in the knowledge that things haven't really changed much for the human species since Cain clubbed Abel.

But as I get older, I notice that certain things have become important to me, and my involvement in the discussion of Big Questions, especially with close friends, has become important, too. Suddenly, national policy has personal relevance. I still don't see it as all that relevant, mind you; especially in a country like America where there's room for almost all shapes and sizes and mindsets. But whether Bush decides to push ahead with measures that will cripple the gay marriage movement-- that's not something I can hold at a distance and treat as abstract. I can't look at our spendthrift administration in the abstract, either. And being in Korea, I'm becoming more sensitive to the question of how nations deal with each other as nations, and how this affects each of us as moving units within those nations. By the same token, Iraq weighs heavily on my mind.

And who can claim to be unmoved, one way or another, by 9/11 and the events following it? I think a lot of us have been stirred to new thought and new action. My father has long contended, as he surveyed the increasingly flabby American populace, "What we need is a good war." Don't get me wrong: Dad's not seriously contending that war is the best way to get people off their asses and out of their armchairs, but you have to agree he's got a point. People like me-- the political cynics-- had little choice but to sit up and take notice when 9/11 happened. The next step, according to some, is taking a stand.

This brings me back to voting, which isn't a requirement of American citizenship, but which many people see as more than a privilege: it's a moral duty. Voting is one arena in which each of us, each for our own personal reasons, can take a stand. We can cast our votes for-- or if we so desire, we can cast our votes against. I suspect there's more than a little game theory involved in the dynamics of voting.

Let me make this clear: if I haven't voted, it's not because of apathy. I've been a cynic, by which I mean I've been actively disgusted and disenchanted by the conduct of politicians in general, and I still find them hard to respect. As an adult, I can dredge up a small amount of sympathy for the politicians in power, the ones who have to deal with a whole constellation of responsibilities, but fuck-- they CHOSE that life, so if it gives them ulcers, well... I won't lose any sleep over their misery. I haven't voted because, to be frank, I've never seen a politician who could inspire me to vote for him or her. I find the "lesser of two evils" approach taken by less-hardcore cynics to be a compromise I'm still not willing to make. And I refuse to vote against; when I finally do cast a vote, it will be proactively, not as a reaction.

So my history of non-voting is not a simple refusal to participate in the electoral process. I will vote when I'm goddamn good and ready, and not before. This may, in fact, be my year. We'll see. If I don't vote, don't tell me I have no right to complain about what happens around me: non-voting is a choice, too, even if some don't recognize it as such. So long as voting isn't a legal obligation, non-voting remains an honest option for the disenchanted. And come to think of it, maybe it's not so much cynicism, but a certain idealism, that keeps me routinely disappointed by the duds I see in office (or running for it). Idealism. As a former high school French teacher used to cackle, "Put that in your pipe and smoke it!"

You might say that non-voting is a cop-out. After all, how can my proactive, consciously chosen non-vote be distinguished from a lazy, thoughtless, apathetic non-vote? I ask in return: how is your proactive vote for Bush distinguishable from someone's reactive vote against the Democratic rival (e.g., a Bush-hater who happens to hate the Dem candidate more)? Yeah, you thought you had the answer there for a second, didn't you. All that shit gets buried in the numbers.

What we're talking about doesn't concern the numbers; it concerns what's going on inside living human skulls before a vote is cast. If you're unwilling to grant that non-participation in an election is itself an active choice, then we're probably not going to get very far in any discussion about voting. If your dogma is, "You didn't vote, therefore you didn't really participate," then I suggest you take a close look at your own bullshit. I repeat: non-voting remains an honest option for the disenchanted.

Voting isn't a legal obligation, and thank God it isn't. Imagine if everyone were legally required to vote. I can't-- not without imagining Kim Jong Il and Saddam Hussein riding to victory on 100% voter acclaim. The oppressive measures that would have to be in place to force everyone to the booths would have to be part of a larger, systemic oppressiveness. I can't see it working any other way. The goodness of American society is that it allows people not to participate in parts of it. Is this so hard to see?

The electoral process, as it stands, includes the options of voting and not voting. You may disagree by contending that non-voting means you're opting out of the process entirely. I don't think so. Voter turnout is as relevant as the votes themselves to the process. Voting and non-voting: these are options-- i.e., these are choices. They're courses of action that can be taken proactively. Or not: if you think it's a problem that apathy keeps people from voting, the mirror image of that problem is the uneducated drones who vote despite being largely uninformed about the issues-- the kind of thought that probably kept Thomas Jefferson awake at night: an army of inbred trailer park hicks appearing half-sloshed to take part in a noble aspect of democracy. I can't say these people are voting "freely" when they vote in ignorance. And trust me: many will be voting in ignorance, so no pious lectures about the salvific nobility of The Vote.

I'm thinking about voting this time around. In particular, I'd like to cast a vote for president. I don't know whom I'd vote for yet. If I were forced to make a choice between Bush and Dean, I'd very reluctantly vote Bush, for reasons I've already given on this blog. If the choices were Bush vs. Lieberman, it'd be a tossup.

But here's the reality: I can write in whomever I want. I'm not limited to choosing between Bush and Democrat X.

So-- a question. Since in all likelihood I'll be writing in Daffy Duck for president (this may change), what's the difference, if any, between voting for Daffy Duck and not going to the voting booth at all? I don't care what you think about the shit I wrote above; just give me a clear answer to this question. Why is a proactive non-vote somehow morally inferior to deliberately writing in a fictional character, if both are done for the same reason: disenchantment and the desire to vote only when some candidate inspires me to vote proactively for him/her?

Or have I missed the point entirely: should I never write anyone in, and vote only for whatever's on the menu, however shitty the menu items are?

ADDENDUM: As if I didn't just beat you over the head enough, let me pile on with this little revision. Earlier I said, "Non-voting remains an honest option for the disenchanted." Let me say further:

Non-voting remains an honest MORAL option for the disenchanted.

If you have to ponder that one, you're definitely a lost soul. In simple terms: if I sincerely hate all the candidates on the ballot, isn't it dishonest to vote for one of them, knowing full well I don't want to, and further knowing that I'm violating my pledge to vote proactively, and not merely for "the lesser of two evils"?