Friday, November 05, 2004

Won't get fooled the first time: Confessions of a ne'er do well

Generally, I avoid being topical. It’s not so much a fear of becoming quickly irrelevant (I prefer to do that slowly); I tend to procrastinate too much to stay on top of what’s going on from a commentary standpoint. There’s plenty of people out there picking up the slack in that regard.

Despite my best intentions, I have encountered thoughts going through my mind lately of a political nature. Don’t worry; it’s not what you think. Except for those of you who know me, where it will likely be exactly what you think.

Let’s get something clear up front: I am the problem. I’m cynical as heck when it comes to politics. I am not particularly of the belief that my vote really counts. I was pretty young when the Watergate scandal happened, and honestly have no first-hand recollection of it, but I have grown up in the wake of it and cannot escape its legacy. I don’t find I want to. I absolutely think politics is a game, much like football, or, to a lesser extent, badminton, and as such, the point is winning, not being a good sport; it seems the rules of the game apply only to the extent one must try to not get caught breaking them. For better or for worse, I came into being pretty much about the time when either a) reporters got better at finding the rule-breakers, b) reporters decided to start reporting on the rule-breaking (after a long period of tacit acceptance), or c) politicians got cocky about rule-breaking. (Likely all three.) I never got to regard presidents as heroes like past generations apparently did.

And I say, thank goodness for that. Rebuking the system may not make the world any better but blind adherence to it ain’t exactly the best way to go either.

I’m not saying that any of the above is true in an objective sense. I’m stating that most of the horrible clichés that have been proffered by the pundits and the TV shows and the movies about my generation’s apathy toward politics are pretty much the opinions I have about the process. I’m not proud of that—not because I wish I thought politics was cool, but because it’s such a drag to actually fit in with my peers; I’m not fond of fitting the mold, even though I realize I do more often than not. What little shred of individuality I delude myself into believing I have is somewhat fragile in that regard.

Given that stance, it may be a little bit of rebellion against stereotype that I have voted in every significant election since I came of age (including, now, five presidential ones). I do read the ballot and take some time to research the initiatives; yes, this is bordering on taking the wretched system seriously. However, it may be completely predictable, falling back into the trap of cynicism, that not once have I cast a ballot for a candidate who was elected president (or governor; I don’t recall if by accident I hit on any actually elected senators, representatives, assembly members, judges, or mayors; anything’s possible, but I wouldn't hold my breath on it.)

How have I achieved such a phenomenal track record of political target-missing? It’s actually not that difficult: I live on the West Coast, and I generally vote in the evening. With the glory of our modern media’s ability to keep the public informed on the status of the vote tabulation, the winning candidate is often announced before I get to the poll. My state’s electoral college pledge (nearly double that of any other state) is already over in one candidate’s tally before some retiree has found my name in the registry.

That is not me succumbing to apathy; it’s my genuine experience. I long ago accepted it as how it goes. I’m not the least bit bothered by it. Frankly, it takes a lot of pressure off, and allows me to punch the hole for the Libertarian, the Green Party rep, the Peace and Freedom guy, or… no, I don’t think I got to Nadar before he fell off the ballot. I know they won’t win, but I kind of feel someone should make them feel like they didn’t completely waste their time; they made some effort—perhaps not much, but some—to be involved even knowing they would lose miserably, and I have to respect that in at least a tiny way.

Some people are now ashamed of me for seemingly “throwing away” my vote. Here’s the thing: That’s their opinion. My opinion is that it’s a representative democracy (a republic, actually—you know: “…and to the Republic, for which it stands…”), which means that individuals only matter to the extent that a bunch of other individuals have the same position and can get a candidate who represents them to represent them in the system. (That’s an oversimplification, admittedly, but come now: You all just watched the big map on CNN turning colors that represented a majority for a given area but certainly not everyone in said area, so you know this to be the way it operates, like it or not.) I don’t believe I am like a majority of others, as noted earlier, therefore my vote be swallowed up by those who have found a greater community in my geographic locale. It is what it is: irrevocably flawed but still the best system around (mostly because socialism is completely unrealistic, given our basically selfish nature).

I have yet to come across a candidate—or, for that matter, a political party (or, for that matter, a religious philosophy)—I felt “represented” me. There have been ones who have held some of my views, but I consider that more coincidence than anything. When it gets down to it, the thought of a politician who really represents me frightens me severely. I don’t want an official who’s ostensibly working for me who is like me; I’m undermotivated, reasonably intelligent but lazy, and largely indifferent about a great many things. In short, with proper backing, a personality makeover, and the relinquishing of what principles I like to think I have, I would probably make a fine politician.

I know. Scary. We all deserve better.

Like most cynics I have enough lingering idealism to really screw up myself. Because of that, I want politicians who don’t represent me but instead are better than me. I accept that all humans are innately flawed, but statistically some must be less screwed-up than the rest of us. (Obligatory cynical clichéd but true remark: They’re too smart to go into politics.) Hence my dismay with politics: There’s no way for me to not be disappointed. This makes it harder to invest myself emotionally in the government, but all in all, that’s not so bad.

There’s a lot of people who were very invested in this most recent election, particularly for the one who wasn’t in office, and they are now completely distraught. I understand this, of course, but from my detached standpoint (it’s kind of like how I can appreciate the blues while never having been oppressed: I can envision what it must have been like, based on the completely different frustrations of my life… exaggerated ridiculously). By no means was I happy about the outcome, but for me I wasn’t going to be “happy” had it gone the other way; it’s politics. It is what it is: Something John Stewart will skewer on the Daily Show no matter who’s in the Oval Office. When it comes to politics for me, the only thing that's exasperating is how the people who get exasperated about it get further exasperated by my not getting exasperated about it.

Anyway, as I was saying, I’m arrogant enough to conclude no politician represents me, and I’m too principled (in theory) to concede my support to the one who is least unlike me, yet I’m contraire enough to keep voting even though it would seem my beliefs would direct me to stay away from the polling place. I suppose the only way to justify the cynicism expressed above regarding the assertion that my individual vote doesn’t matter that much by itself is to keep casting it and having it not matter that much, with that inexplicable hint of idealism way in the back holding out for the time I’m wrong. Perhaps there is that extent to which it’s easier to just vote than to have to keep explaining to my friends why I didn’t, but really, I’m not against voting or the system; I’m just acknowledging its limits. It’s what we have, so I may as well get what I can from it. That may be the pathetic joy of having had the opportunity to vote ironically. Anyone who voted for a candidate who won will never get some mileage out of being able to tell others at a party (or on a blog) that he got to vote for an unabashed lunatic millionaire. Oh wait. That’s not clear enough. I mean he got to vote for Ross Perot. (Clinton had already been projected the overwhelming winner, people. Loosen up.) That specious bragging right they can never take away.

I told you that to tell you this: The day after the 2000 election, while the recount mired the country in confusion, I told a friend, “At this point, both sides are just fighting to house-sit for four years. Whichever candidate gets in there won’t be re-elected in 2004.” And then due to circumstances we all understand yet are completely flummoxed by, it was clear the election would be close. It was touted as important with that implication that even us cheeky bastards shouldn’t mess with it. So when I found myself in the booth, I set aside my cynical principles, and I punched the hole for Kerry/Edwards, with the sincere belief that my off-the-cuff remark from four years before would be made prophetic.

Well, we all see how that went.

I’ll take this opportunity to apologize to my Democratic friends. I didn’t realize the universe was so hell-bent on keeping my not-voting-for-the-winner steak going. Who’d have thought one person could make a difference? (Now you all wish I’d voted for Bush, I bet.)

Remember: Don’t compromise just out of fear of being wrong, even if it’s merely being wrong for completely asinine reasons.

Thank you, and the deity of your choice (or lack thereof) bless America.

"The makers of the of the Constitution sought to protect Americans... . They conferred, as against the government, the right to be left alone—the most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued by civilized men." - Louis D. Brandeis, Supreme Court Justice, 1928