2008 was the very first year that I voted in a presidential election.

In 2004, I had just moved back to Utah, and hadn’t yet registered in time.

In 2000, I was working on a cruise ship in the middle of the Mediterranean Ocean

In 1996, I had just turned 18, and was a freshman in college.  And I was too busy loving my first semester of college to worry about elections.

And, to be honest, the only reason I actually bothered voting in 2008 was because the state of Washington does vote-by-mail about three weeks prior to the actual election.  The ballot shows up at my apartment, I fill it out, and as long as I have a first-class stamp, I send it in.  It’s easy, it’s convenient, and it doesn’t take much time.

But in reality, I didn’t care all that much about the 2008 elections, either.  Over the last 16 years since becoming eligible to vote, I have become completely embittered toward our political system.  The incessant bickering, pandering, lying, spending, posturing, and blaming has led me to believe that, for the most part, it really doesn’t matter who is elected. 

The facts of my life are pretty simple: I don’t have the time, inclination, or interest in following each and every decision of my representatives in the government, to verify whether or not they did the things they said they were going to do (or by extension, didn’t to the things they said they weren’t going to do.)  I don’t feel the need to become personally involved with each and every decision in the political arena that might potentially affect me in some way at some nebulous point in the future.  I’m incapable of seeing the pending cataclysms that will undoubtedly occur if one politician gets elected over another, and I refuse to believe that any one politician will be able to drive us toward either of the polar extremes of communism or facism.

Frankly, that is one of the reasons why I believe that a republic is a much better form of government than a democracy.  I don’t have the resources or time to form an education opinion on every single issue. It’s my job, as a voter, to pick someone who I feel will do the best job in approaching the problems of our times, evaluate them from a point of common sense, with knowledge and understanding that I do not have at my disposal (or do not have the wherewithal to comprehend), and make reasonable decisions based upon that combination of information, character, and common sense.  Much like you hire an assistant or temp to do the work you don’t have time to do yourself, I am, as a voter, responsible for hiring the person who will stand in my place, and make the same kinds of decisions I would make were I able to spend the time, money, and brain power necessary to make them myself.

Unfortunately, it has become my very firm belief that the information age, and the 24-hour news cycle, in particular, makes this impossible. There is so much information, much of it conflicting, about what each candidate believes/did/does/will do about each and every possible issue, that it has begun to overwhelm the more important aspects of candidacy.  It’s no longer possible to examine a candidate’s character, his decision-making abilities, or her abilities to synthesize reasonable conclusions from the data available.  Instead, we find ourselves focusing on whether the candidate tied a dog crate to the top of the car or whether he smoked pot once in college. We can’t focus on the kind of decisions a candidate will make because are focused, often against our will, upon the trivial and inconsequential aspects of each candidate.

This is exacerbated by the growing extremism in our political system.  In order to pander to the most vocal, polarizing, and reprehensible extremists in each party for financial and political support, candidates are no longer able to speak with bluntness. They are unable to say what they really believe, or express how they would really act. Instead, they say whatever they think that the audience of the moment wants to hear, seeming to forget that we live in a world where every moment of every day is recorded and easily available for dissemination on YouTube or Facebook.

Mitt Romney, for example, was a moderate republican governor of a very democratic state.  During his tenure, his state passed a health care bill upon which the Affordable Care Act was modeled. His state was the first to allow gay marriage. He was able, from most accounts, to build consensus between the polarized parties and accomplish a great deal.  But that Mitt Romney can’t win the election. That moderate, capable-of-compromise Mitt Romney can’t excite the extremists who provide the money. As a result, I have watched (sparingly, to be sure) Mitt fumble and stumble all over himself pretending to be an extremist, saying whatever he thinks he should say to the audience of the moment, to get what he wants.  I use Mitt as an example, but I have noticed the same behavior from our sitting president as well.

When, as a candidate, you don’t show your all-around character as part of your platform, you prevent people from being able to vote on that honest and true character.  They can’t trust you be who you say you are or do what you say you will do, because there is proof that every word out of your mouth is a spin/lie. Instead, your inability to prove character and sound, responable and FAIR judgment, forces people to vote solely on individual issues.  Who will we get if you are elected? Since I can’t tell, and you won’t show me, I instead have to turn to your stance on whatever one thing is more important to me.

That is the situation I found myself in two weeks ago when I sat down with my ballot at my dining room table and started filling in Scantron circles. I couldn’t vote for candidates. I couldn’t vote for a representative to do the job of gathering and parsing information, and using that information to make rational, informed decisions. Instead, I had to vote the issues.  I had to carry my ballot into my office and spend an hour going candidate by candidate and investigating what they said they believe in, and what they will do with their time in office.

This is fine, of course. I’m more than willing to take the time, to work to deserve my constitutional right to vote. But when you simply don’t care all that much about any of the issues, it makes it very difficult to make decisions.  Is the economy better than it was in 2008? Yes. Absolutely. Is it recovering slowly? Yep. But in 2007, when it crashed, even before the 2008 elections, economists were estimating that it would take 8-12 years to recover. So, that’s fine. I have a job, and have throughout this entire term, and I’m living well enough. I am 35 years away from retirement, and I don’t believe that anything that happens now will affect that one way or the other.  (Frankly, I expect that Social Security won’t exists by the time I retire…or certainly not in its current form.)  I had insurance before the ACT, and I have insurance now. I have seen no real difference because of that. The wars outside of the US are winding down. The world doesn’t feel any safer now that bin Laden is dead, and I still have to take my shoes off at the airport. For the most part, I just can’t bring myself to care about most of the issues, because regardless of who gets elected, regardless of who tries to enact their newest pet project, the chances are that the net effect on my life will be negligible.

Except for one thing.

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This is my ballot.  It was filled out two weeks ago, and mailed in at that time.  And the item you see above is the one issue which has the potential of having a near-term, significant impact upon my life. Referrendum 74.

So, this year, because this has been such a significant issue in the state, and in my life, this became, the one issue which determined my choices for candidates. I decided that, this year, I would refuse to vote for any candidate who believed that it was good and right to take away my rights and the rights of other loving men and women. 

I hated it. I hated having to go through each candidate and choose to vote for them or not vote for them based solely on whether or not they support same-sex marriage. I shouldn’t even have to vote based on this issue.  I should be able to look at a candidate’s character and say, “I trust you. I trust you to do the right thing, even if it’s something that you don’t believe in personally. I trust you to do the right thing, even if your party doesn’t agree.  I trust you to stand up for the rights of the people who elected you, and to make decisions based, not on emotion, religion, or fear, but on common sense, understanding, and fairness.  I trust you to be the man or woman who governs.  I trust you to understand the difference between governing and nannying. I trust you to agonize over the hard decisions, and I trust you to be able to explain those hard decisions when they’re made. I trust you to represent me, my rights, my future, my life.”

But I can’t. I can’t trust any of our current crop of candidates. I can’t trust them to do anything more than vote along divisive party lines. I can’t trust them not to take special interest money. I can’t trust them not to spent 3 years of each four year term campaigning for the next four year term.  I can’t trust them to be who they said they were, or do what they said they were going to do. Because, frankly, I can’t trust them to tell the truth, live with honor, or treat their responsibilities with adequate seriousness.

So instead, I vote on one issue—the one issue that will impact me directly, regardless of all the other things I believe.

Did I vote? Yeah, I did. Was I happy about it? Did I feel like my voice made a difference, like I exercised my civic duty? Nope. I wanted to. I wanted to feel that way. I wanted to feel as though I could be involved in this process, and that I would be able to, for once, choose the best man or woman for the job. Instead, I just chose the one who said he supported my equal rights.

When I was a boy and teenager, I had a very deep patriotic streak inside of me. I would get choked up at the Star-Spangled Banner. I would play the 1st trumpet line in Stars and Stripes Forever each year on Independence Day with the community band as fireworks exploded off in the distance. I would march in the parades for Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day. I would stand and salute the flag proudly, dressed in my Boy Scout uniform. I bought into the pride and excitement of the ideal of America. I was naïve, a sheltered boy who wanted to believe in something greater.  I wanted to believe that America truly was the Greatest Country in the World™.

And while I exercised my right to vote for only the second time in my life, I was left feeling hollow—as though the ideal of America that I held in my heart for all those years had dissolved around me.  Instead of voting for the leaders of this great land of ours, pillars of strength and patriotism, I was left voting for the person who didn’t want to continue stripping me of my rights.

Aaron Sorkin, the writer and creator the The West Wing, The Social Network, and The Newsroom penned a speech for the Jeff Daniel’s character in the pilot of Newsroom which sums up my feelings about this election cycle, and in a more general sense, this country. I couldn’t have put it better myself, so I will sign off with his words.

 

  • Gerald Coates

    When reviewing the Pilot Prera you quoted Joseph Joubert “a part of kindness consists in loving people more than they deserve.” You wanted to focus on this quote because you wanted people to be more loving towards one another…especially during election season in the U.S. Now you have liked a video from John Oliver concerning Donald Trump. One could say that this video encourages people to be anything but kind to a man who might be the next POTUS. Seems a tad hypocritical to me.

  • Perhaps. But unlike the man in question, I do not consider myself to be a shining beacon of perfection to the world. I understand that life must always be a process of perpetual improvement. And part of the reason why I like the mentioned video as much as I do is that the man being discussed (along with most every single person in the running at the moment do one degree or another) is that he is one of the most hate-spewing, spiteful men ever to enter public conciousness. I will do my part, however small it may be, to make sure that my country is not led by a human being who preaches hate, murder, discrimination, and genocide from the podium in the name of freedom.

    I believe it is possible to love someone more than they deserve without handing them the keys to your destruction. I wish that man a good, happy healthy life. I simply do not want him in charge.