Once every few years, in early November, I wake up and think that today I will make my mark on the democratic process, today I will show the world that I care about the direction our nation is going, and so once every few years, in early November, I wake up, go about my business, and make sure that everyone knows that I am not going to vote because it doesn’t matter, because the system is broken, because no one in office really cares, because no one in office represents me (or you or anyone) and because I won’t encourage the illusion.
It’s kind of a confusing statement to make. And most people laugh at me as if I am some naïve idealist. And perhaps I am an idealist, but I am not naïve. If anything, I am cynical. And the fact is that it really is an illusion; everything about this biannual thing we call an election is a charade. Every reason we are given for voting breaks down as soon as you look past the patriotic gibberish that we formulate it with.
Here in the United States we have a marvelous principal called “One person, one vote.” The foundations of our democratic principals as it were, and it is a good idea in principal at least. (Though, the US Senate was crafted purposely to avoid such an idea.) The fact is that this rule is not true. For instance, if you are living in the tightly contested state of Ohio, your vote matters a whole lot more than does mine in the solidly blue state of Hawaii, which has never once voted Republican. What’s more if you vote for someone who loses, you really almost might as well have voted for Mickey Mouse, you lost, you are not represented, which is hardly representative. For instance, if in a Senate election your state elects a senator who won with 60% of the vote (a solid victory) you can hardly claim that that senator represents the 40% of the people in the state who voted against them. Look at Colorado in its 2010 Senate election: 48% voted Democratic, 46.4% Republican and nearly 6% voted for other: in other words the majority voted against their elected representative. Similarly if your state this election votes 48% romney, 49% obama and 3% other, well then 100% of your state’s electoral college vote (the one that actually matters in a presidential election) is going to Obama. Leaving a full 51% (the majority) of your state’s electorate not represented—the democratic process in action. Missouri in 2008 voted 49% for Obama and 51% for McCain, but the only votes that made any difference were those for McCain.
But if we assume that you stand behind a candidate 100%, that they perfectly represent you and that they win. Well, chances are that they won’t be pushing too hard to fulfill all those campaign promises or try too hard to live up to campaign rhetoric—or you know, the promises they made to get you to vote for them: Obama has kept approximately 38% of his campaign promises, the GOP congress has kept 12%. And the best part is that you get to wait another 2-4 years before getting another swing at it and unless your representative really screwed up you’re probably only going to get the option to vote for him again or some other guy who is 100% opposed to your beliefs. So you’ll probably vote for the same guy even though he really didn’t live up to his campaign promises the first time and probably won’t this time. All those antiwar Democrats get this exact same dilemma, and they’ll probably vote for Obama even though he continues to kill and wage war at his good pleasure.
Satire wouldn’t be funny unless it was partly true, so you really should stop and think when you find yourself laughing at Onion headlines like “Nation Tunes in to See Which Sociopath Likable This Time”. And when you see an increasing number of articles headlined with “Does it really matter who wins?” or Stephen Colbert saying, “There must be a difference, there has to be a difference, otherwise we’re part of the biggest farce ever.” on Meet the Press but even a mind as brilliant as his can’t spot a difference, you should really pause and wonder if there is a difference. The answer is that there isn’t really. Candidates differ in their temperament sure, and there are some differences in policies, but there is never any real substantive difference. Candidates do not differ on things that really matter in ways that really matter. They might debate when exactly they will go to war with Iran, but none of them will raise the question if invading Iran is necessary in the first place. They might elaborate on their immigration policies, but none will tell you why we have to lock out millions of people trying to do the same thing your grandfather did. They might tell you how they will win the war on terror, but none can explain to you how bombs will burst ideologies. They might tell you how they will keep you safe, but none will ever question that keeping you safe involves groping nonagenarians in wheelchairs, or flying drones over your house, or killing American citizens without trial, or authorizing the indefinite detention of American citizens without trial or charge, or any of that. To quote from a favorite blog, Letters to My Country:
I can say without hesitation that I just watched possibly the most frustrating, unproductive debate between two candidates that I’ve ever seen. To wit, I just watched two candidates debate over not whether military spending should be cut, but by how much it should be increased. I also watched two candidates state unequivocally that if Israel is attacked, American sons and daughters will almost certainly be dragged into the conflict, rendered bloody and broken to protect a country whose current leaders have not only said publicly that they don’t need our help to protect their borders, but who have disregarded the U.S. government’s pleas for compromise and moderation at nearly every turn; while also doing their best to drag the U.S. kicking and screaming into a completely avoidable military conflict—one which a former head of Mossad has noted would essentially lead to a war that will engulf the entire region. And of course, nobody seems concerned about the Iranian people, who are suffering under the cruel regime of economic sanctions which both candidates have excitedly approved.
Ironically, that same country (I refer here to Israel and not Iran) has managed to reduce its own military spending by five percent in recent years, despite being in a much more precarious security position than the United States, geographically speaking.
I suppose the good news is that Romney appears to have lost the debate. The bad news, unfortunately, is that Obama appears to have won. Meanwhile, the other candidates available to voters are busy filing lawsuits trying to get into the debates, or getting arrested for trying to enter. Of course, the American people might have more exposure to these candidates if the two major parties had not essentially rigged the presidential debate system in their favor.
And so I stand by my original statement on the first presidential debate. None of the substantive foreign policy issues I mentioned were discussed with any substance or candor. We watched two candidates agree with each other 90% of the time, while pointing out small details in the other candidate’s plan where they disagree. This isn’t real democracy. It’s a shell game.
This game doesn’t begin and end with the presidential race either. Republicans and Democrats are increasingly the same, the parties no longer differ on much. Republicans can say they are anti abortion, but abortion is still legal despite a Republican congress for nearly 15 years and a Republican president and Supreme Court for six of those years. They can say they’re for smaller government too, but the government grew more under Bush than Clinton. Democrats can say they are for minorities, but they continue to pursue a drug war that targets minorities despite equal usage across races. They can say they are anti-war, but they’ve gone to war just as much as any Republican. No matter who gets elected, the wars continue, the money continues to roll, and everything stays the same or gets worse.
To win an election these days you have to have a lot of money. Thankfully, corporations and millionaires can now fully fund any candidate they choose via the Citizens United ruling. But unless you are a millionaire, chances are you can’t. Now sure, money doesn’t directly buy votes, but it comes just as close as it can without paying you in front of your local polling station. Money greases the palms that run the polls, and independents tend to vote for whoever looks like they will win so this is a big deal. Money saturates the airwaves and can be used to lie to voters without consequence for the candidate via super PACs. Money can be used to make grassroots activism a legal hell. Now, you may be the vote that turned the tide and made your candidate win. And maybe you voted entirely from conviction, good for you. The candidate doesn’t need to thank you cause you could be counted on. He needs to thank the people who convinced all those on the fence voters, and the moneyed interests that are behind them. And this influence doesn’t somehow end on Election Day. It continues for as long and sometimes beyond that person’s political career. There are whole shelves of legislation that are written by lobbyists and then sponsored by politicians who owe them something. And then when a politician looses or retires they always find a welcome spot as a consultant for the moneyed interests looking to retain the power in Washington. This is why we still have E10 fuel despite the fact that it takes 1.2 gallons of gas to make 1 gallon of ethanol gas, that ethanol fuel is less efficient than gas, and worse for your engine, and that sugar-cane based ethanol is more efficient and cheaper, but not taxed out of practicality in the US. But big corn has big money and lots of politicians owe them big time, so tough luck people.
Money, is something I don’t have a lot of, but I have principals. And anyone with principals should stand up and refuse to vote for a candidate they undoubtedly find the lesser of two evils. If you are a staunch conservative, vote for the Constitution Party. If you are a libertarian, then vote for Gary Johnson. If you are a real liberal, then vote for the Green Party. Vote for someone who actually stands for something. Or do what I do, and this November don’t vote and instead explain to everyone why you are doing your patriotic duty and not pretending that the system works.