Thursday, February 07, 2008

Voting, and why we vote...

I saw a George Will column around somewhere (Online? in print? I can't remember) that basically suggested that the Dems would squander the opportunity to win the White House by not nominating Obama, but rather Hillary, who is to him, a supremely divisive candidate. The argument he made was that by nominating McCain, The Republicans had staked their claim to the center, and that Hillary would not pick up any usual Republican voters, and probably not many independents, either.

In doing so, Will mentioned casually the squandering of primary votes on Tuesday for candidates like Edwards, who was already out of the race, or even, on the Republican side, for Huckabee, who was essentially only a regional candidate.

I am no political scientist, but I seem to think that what Will implicitly raises is the purpose of a vote. So much rhetoric about voting suggests that our vote = our political voice, and that this equivalency means that we get to exercise our place in a democracy primarily through our vote.

This is, of course, bullshit, particularly in such a solidly bi-partisan political system. Neither Obama nor Hillary really speaks for me, even if they speak more like I do than any other viable presidential candidates. Edwards spoke more like I do, and I probably would've cast a vote for him were he still in the race.

But with my primary still in the future (we're late to that ballgame, and for once, potentially consequential), I am asking myself what I'll be doing when I'm voting.

In 2000, I voted for Gore, even though I agreed with more things that Nader was saying at the time. In retrospect, I feel even Better about that vote, since I've become disenchanted with Nader, and frankly somewhat more enchanted with Gore. But then, I was voting for one of two likely choices, Bush or Gore, where my preference was clear, even if my voice in that vote was obscured.

In my upcoming primary, I suspect I'll have the option of casting a vote for Edwards, a bit of a protest against the too-moderate-for-my-tastes available candidates. This vote is essentially inconsequential.

I could vote for Hillary, who I suspect actually supports more of the policies that I support, but whom I suspect might not win a general election. Or I could vote for Obama, whom I believe to be most electable, but the furthest from representing my actual specific concerns. Instead, Obama simply seems to be the most likely candidate to bring some less-conservative framework to the White House.

So what is my vote, anyway, because if my vote=equals my political voice, then my political voice is terribly indistinct, and pretty far from anything I might call my political convictions. This is not simply a lesser of two evils thing, either. Instead I believe it says a lot about the rhetoric of democracy. For if our vote is our primary way of participating in a democracy, then it's a poor way of participating, indeed.

Instead, this rhetoric seems to at once encorage political assimilation into one of two dominant paradigms, and simulataneously and implicitly de-fuse other kids of participation. I know that some people get angry when others don't vote, as if it is the single most important thing that a citizen can do. And while, yes, it's important, and more votes adds up to something like political will (except in years ending with the digits 2-0-0-0). But there are so many other substantive ways to enact citizenship that actually equal voice. I've been sending more and more emails to representatives, which is only a little more efficacious., but there it is. But activism, volunteerism, general political discussion is all important, on-the-ground, and voiced. And while power might be most visibly exercised in big grandiose chambers inside the beltway, it is also exercised in many micro-scale ways in every interaction.

So I'll figure out how I'm voting when the time comes. Perhaps by then it'll be a done deal. But what I'm not going to do is delude myself into believing that those few little onscreen buttons are all that is left of my political voice.


dave said...


(Though I find myself more enthusiastic about both Obama and Clinton).

Rent Party said...

"This is not simply a lesser of two evils thing, either."

Well I was for Gravel and Kucinich, and would've next voted for Edwards but with less enthusiasm, but my consolation for not getting to vote for people I can really get behind is to remember that democracy is not (just) voting, it is participation ... as you say.