Recently, I received an email from Colleen Mondor in relation to Blog the Vote, an effort to collect various ruminations from bloggers and writers regarding Tuesday. Colleen has urged me to be “non-partisan.” But being non-partisan about this subject is a bit like sitting in one of those antediluvian non-smoking sections in a restaurant (back when restaurants still allowed smoking). You can sit in a seemingly pristine booth all you want, but the smoke will drift over from the smoking section. It will still get in your hair and clothes, and possibly influence your conversation.
First and foremost, I should point out that I plan to spend Tuesday night with others drinking a considerable amount of alcohol, screaming at the television like a reality show addict waiting for the right people to be kicked off the island, bringing a copy of Gregory Corso’s “Bomb” to recite (just in case), sobbing on sundry shoulders if certain California propositions aren’t defeated, laughing maniacally at all the deserving bastards who go down, and worrying very much about the fate of this nation. (I have decided to not spend Monday worrying, as this is probably better for my blood pressure.) This seems the American thing to do, as no other presidential race in my lifetime has been this important.
And no other presidential race in my lifetime has required such a gonzo approach. Given these circumstances, I do not think clinging to a laptop is a good idea. And I think that I may likewise employ the cautionary measure of disabling my ability to Twitter from my cell phone. (Not that I use the cell much anyway. I have discovered that very often the cell is dead, and that it has been this way for days.) I’ve made these decisions not for my protection, but for yours. The last thing the Internet needs is another jittery crank writing deranged rants in real time. But what the Internet does need, as Colleen rightly points out, are reasons to vote. (Some additional suggestions: I would advise not voting and drinking, given the unreliability of some of the machines. I would also advise not drinking as you are determining who to vote for, as you may begin confusing candidates and regretting who you vote for. I would advise drinking after you vote, no matter when the hour. But gather with friends. Don’t be alone. This is not a night to be alone.)
Let us put such trivial matters as this nation’s trajectory over the next thirty years under one of two administrations, and look upon the situation from a purely mercenary standpoint. On Tuesday, Ben & Jerry’s is offering free ice cream. My neighborhood cafe is serving free coffee to those who’ve voted. Starbuck’s is doing something similar. I’ve even heard of delis offering free heroes. I never expected so many freebies. It’s better than cutting coupons in the Sunday newspaper. Alas, it’s also better than the number of specials you can claim on your birthday. And I feel tremendously sorry for anyone in the position of blowing out cake candles on Tuesday. It’s a bit like having a birthday on Xmas, and having to endure all the assholes who give you a present for both Xmas and your birthday. For those who aren’t celebrating a birthday on November 5, you have everything to gain. But should you have a Scorpio friend in this predicament, do try and allocate some of the perks to your Scorpio friends. That way, they’ll have an added incentive to vote. Also, invite them to your election parties, and offer an option to celebrate their birthdays on a different day.
Here’s where I start to get slightly partisan. I do worry tremendously about the stunning and uncritical pass that the Man With Hope (as opposed to the Man from Hope; let us not forget that hope has been in political vogue now for nearly two decades) is getting from his supporters. In a recent essay for the New Yorker, David Sedaris wrote about the undecided voter, with a hypothetical flight attendant asking, “Can I interest you in the chicken? Or would you prefer the platter of shit with bits of broken glass in it?” This is, I think, regrettable reductionism. So let’s take it further, because suggesting that the American political system is broken has become strangely unfashionable.
Is not just about any politician a platter of shit with bits of broken glass in it? Has there ever been a politician in the past sixty years that’s been anywhere nearly as good as Sam Rayburn? (Rayburn, among other things, set up the SEC, the FCC, and traveled only on his own dime. He didn’t take money. He didn’t cater to special interests. He told everybody that he was not for sale. Perhaps he was the last politician who could get away with this.)
I point this out not to flaunt cynicism, but to point out that Beltway politics is an environment in which the participants are spending much of their time bending over and confusing an act of submission with compromise. I point this out because it is the successful politician’s job to look as good as he can before the cameras.
Why then would anyone want to vote given these realities? Well, because, change happens gradually over time. And if change is slow on the national level, then it is certainly swift on the state and local levels. I may be a realist, but I’m also an optimist. Nevertheless, it remains your responsibility not only to consider the candidate who best serves your position, but to likewise question the candidate you’re voting for. If you are voting for your candidate out of blind faith, almost exclusively out of “hope” or “country first,” then take the time to really think about why you’re really voting for an advertising slogan. Take the time to understand just what your candidate will do well, and what your candidate will not do well. The point here is not to find an ideal candidate, but to find the right candidate for the position. The best-suited candidate for the job. Warts and all. The guy who will fill the slot in best.
If, after months of all this, you still haven’t figured it out, then what you need to do is go to your most intelligent friend and ask her how to vote. You really need to do this, particularly if you live in Ohio or one of the swing states. Let your friend make all the decisions, vote for all the local measures, and, above all, select the presidential candidate. Then you’re off the hook. And you can still enjoy all the ice cream.
The important thing to consider here is that everyone can vote, but not everyone can vote with a clear head. It’s important that you don’t blow this. It’s important to think everything out in the time you have available. It’s important to make calls or look things up if you don’t quite understand something. It’s important not to let anyone get in the way of a decision you’ve made by thinking everything out. And it’s damn important to be flexible enough to change your mind at the last minute. That’s what a good thinker does. And you’re a good thinker. So go to the polls tomorrow and think! Then you can tell everyone you’ve really voted, and you can enjoy your ice cream without ideological consequence.
© 2008, Edward Champion. All rights reserved.