Today is Primary Day as the great unending struggle for democracy continues. This is supposed to be an exciting year, particularly for those who are tired of the country’s direction, and I’ll be watching on TV along with everyone else tonight. But I’m sorry to say that even despite months of campaign coverage, speeches and excitement, I have some basic questions unanswered still.
My simple questions are: Where were all these happy shiny people four years ago? And why should I pay attention to them now? Because Bush can only serve two terms, and now the coast is clear?
Like a lot of bloggers who got started around 2004, I was a supporter of one of the “insurgent” candidates of that election cycle. I wasn’t exactly an orange-hatter, but I was an enthusiastic Dean supporter; that was back in the days when criticizing Bush wasn’t done for fun and profit, when it really at times felt like shouting into an echoing canyon. I thought Dean’s implosion was sad, though interesting too, and I didn’t feel terribly bitter about the political lessons learned. No, I confess, it was Kerry losing that wounded me. More than I realized at the time. The questions asked above, just won’t stop. Maybe I’m not very resilient, but I need more to go on now, than what’s being offered.
Obama’s speeches, which seem to me to be largely strings of cliches, don’t make me feel energized. I walked into a room the other day where a TV was on, heard the phrase “building a bridge to the future” come out of his mouth, and walked out. (And then there’s the JFK buzz, which wears me out the way a mosquito in the room keeps one up at night.) Clinton’s experience in Washington doesn’t make me feel more secure, either. There’s not much evidence she will do anything really much more brilliant than Bush. But my personal opinions are beside the point. And perhaps democracy is supposed to be simply a pragmatic defensive action against a never-ending assault by opportunistic candidates who really serve other masters.
Democracy is a substitute for war when it comes to the management of power and keeping our citizens and their rights secured. We still do have external wars, ostensibly for national security. However, when we’ve put our young soldiers through the wringer and they’ve been wounded and temporarily or permanently disabled and physically unfit for service, as a society we don’t guilt them into signing up for another tour. They get medals. They get honorable discharges. No one harangues them for their lack of patriotism and service to democracy if they choose to sit out the next engagement. Indeed, it wouldn’t be very wise to send a double amputee back into the heat of battle.
And yet the American voter, no matter how faithfully they’ve served, is expected to charge into the breach with superhuman strength and defend democracy every year, no matter what their condition. “What are you… a slacker? A coward?” But conscientious war objectors get treated with more respect than the damaged voter. I think the very concept of damaged voters is not fully understood. None of this political activity is supposed to leave any lasting impression; four years later and the slate is supposed to be magically wiped clean, all passions purged, with new passions to be suggested again by the right candidate.
I’ve served my country faithfully as a yearly voter since 1988. (That’s yearly: Not just every two years.) I’ve voted for hopeless losers without flinching. I’ve voted for a few winners too. I’ve exhorted other people to vote. I’ve engaged people in political discussions. I’ve supported various candidates through donations. I was never at the top of my class when it came to being a valuable demographic or having key political talents, but I gave my best. I don’t regret that, but I honestly don’t think I have anything left to give. At least not right now.
Yes, I admit it: I’m bleeding all over the rug here, very unheroically. And at just the wrong “historic” moment, too. Maybe it’s just a nosebleed, but it doesn’t feel like it. I do expect censure and shaming. But one thing I know is true: Whenever you vote angry, you’re probably making the wrong choice and should leave it to others. If you get into the voting booth today and feel nothing but anger that you find impossible to resolve, the best thing to do for democracy is probably to turn on your heel and walk out. Don’t make the bleeding worse, and you may live to fight another day. The forces of darkness do prefer blood-drained, zombie armies.