Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Sunday, September 9, 2018 12:14 pm

On not voting

Filed under: Uncategorized — Lex @ 12:14 pm

Last night on Twitter, I stumbled into a discussion about why people don’t vote. I dared to agree, pointedly, with another poster that perhaps people who don’t vote because they don’t see a candidate they like need to get over themselves. I was not swarmed, exactly, but I did hear from a few people. Even at 280 characters, Twitter is not the best place to have that discussion, so I’m posting here to both address some specific points from my interlocutors and to make a more general case about why voting is good and not voting is bad even if you don’t like anyone on the ballot.

I was informed by @punksandwitch that my attitude was shitty. I pointed out, correctly, that the attitudes of nonvoters had helped give us both Bush 43 and Trump, by far the two worst presidents in our country’s history.

I was informed by @delmoi that nonvoters don’t need to give me excuses and don’t owe me anything. That’s his/her opinion. Mine is that as citizens in a democratic republic we all owe each other our best judgment, every election, every time, and that willfully choosing not to vote is an abdication of civic responsibility.

@delmoi also suggested that if I want to win elections, I should find out why people aren’t voting and correct the problem. @aimeedemaio helpfully added some data to further that effort:
Now, voters listed a lot of reasons, some of which we absolutely can address by, for example, making Election Day a national holiday and enacting universal registration, as several states already have done. But the biggest chunk by far of 2016 nonvoters didn’t vote because they didn’t like the candidates and/or issues.

My critics’ take, if I may generalize, is that I (or the Democratic Party, of which I am not a member) need to come up with better candidates and/or issues if I wish to engage this 40 percent. And that’s where they have their heads firmly ensconced in their nether regions.

In 2016, most of us had a choice for president from among four flawed people. One was an authoritarian bigot with narcissistic personality disorder, a decades-long history of financial fraud and sexual assault and a nontrivial chance of being a Russian agent. One was a woman with an awful sense of PR who had nonetheless served with distinction as First Lady, U.S. senator and Secretary of State and, despite having been more throughly investigated than any other public figure in U.S. history, had never been found to be even close to guilty of a crime. The other two were minor-party candidates, one of whom also turned out to have ties to the Russians.

As @MadameOvary put it, “I’m not interested in why they don’t shell out money for the turd sandwich or the turd sandwich with extra diarrhea gravy. We gave them a choice!!!!” And @ald0_sax put it similarly: “Imagine if pepsi gradually changed it’s formula until eventually people started thinking it tasted like shit. Then imagine that for their new ad campaign, pepsi started going around lecturing people for not buying enough pepsi. You are pepsi. Stop being pepsi.” @OpinionatedLab agreed, albeit less colorfully.

Well, Republicans have been arguing for more than half a century that all government is bad and that therefore voting is a waste of time. You’d think people might stop and ask themselves, “If voting is so worthless, why are Republicans trying to stop people from doing it?” But they don’t.

As for candidate quality, despite insistences from such folks as @anthrogirl73 that not only was Hillary Clinton a lousy candidate, so was Al Gore, there is not a lot of evidence that Democratic candidates, at least, are any worse now than they’ve been at any point since the civil-rights era. (Republican candidates, on the other hand, have gotten a lot worse — more corrupt and more crazy. The last sane, noncriminal Republican candidate was Eisenhower.)

So, sure, if you’re uninformed or lazy or holier-than-thou, you can argue that all the 2016 candidates sucked. But you can’t argue that they all sucked equally and still display any intellectual integrity. Anyone with any historical perspective and understanding of the way our system actually works understood that 1) Donald Trump had to be defeated and that 2) the best, most likely way to do that was to vote for Hillary Clinton.

The survey above mentioned not only unsatisfactory candidates but unsatisfactory issues. @walking_fox tweeted, “If you want people to vote, you need to give them something to vote for, instead of promising them pain and then whining about how they are obligated to enable your abuse of them.” Well, here in the real world, in the 2015 general elections and in many special elections so far this year, Democrats have been running, and generally winning, not on pain but on health care and jobs. “The Democrats have no message” has been GOP propaganda mindlessly distributed by some godawfully lazy news media; I’m just sorry some people have been taken in by it.

Here’s the thing: You will never in your life get your perfect candidate for president. I’ve been doing this since 1980. Barack Obama was the only presidential candidate I ever voted for about whom I was genuinely enthusiastic. And even he was a letdown on a number of significant issues. He failed to hold responsible those who ordered torture and warrantless domestic wiretapping. He failed to hold accountable those who blew up the economy in 2008. And he personally ordered the extrajudicial assassination of a U.S. citizen.

But the bottom line is that our constitutional system of choosing a president (and most other office holders) is a winner-take-all system. Under a parliamentary system, or with ranked choice voting, voters might have more flexibility, but under the system we’ve got, we usually end up voting for, if not the lesser of two evils, then someone we’re just not all that enthusiastic about.

Certainly that’s a bad thing, but absent an overnight amendment to the Constitution, we’re stuck with it. Therefore, if you want more progressive candidates, the way to get them is to either find them or become them — and then turn out and vote for them in the primary. Sadly, it’s a fact nationwide that far fewer people vote in primaries than in general elections, partly because some primaries are closed but mainly because a lot of people just don’t bother. But simply demanding better candidates and staying home if you don’t get them is not a solution. Indeed, it plays right into the hands of some of the country’s most awful people and endangers many of its most vulnerable. It might make you feel better, but this isn’t just about you.





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