The damaged voter

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.

5 thoughts on “The damaged voter

  1. Phil

    While I am firmly in Obama’s camp, I wholeheartedly agree that his campaign has been very thin on details–at least in his public speeches. All the candidates (at least the D’s) have well thought out position papers on almost every conceivable issue.

    But if it were just the issues, I would have been an Edwards or Kuchinich person. I think that Barack has crafted this so-called post-partisan campaign style to appeal directly to your concept of the wounded voter.

    As for my rationale, I’m voting for a person who used to be a community organizer and that experience still informs some of his thinking. I also believe that Obama thinks differently about foreign policy than Clinton. He recognizes that events around the globe have an effect on the U.S., and not just in a economic or military chessboard sense. He believes in the efficacy of non-military power and wants the US to more extensively and wisely use our influence. Clinton seems to be made in the Madelline Albright mode, who famously asked a Colin Powell reluctant to use military force in Kosovo:”What’s the point of having this superb military you’re always talking about, if we can’t use it?”

  2. Ellen

    Well, I just thought I’d report that I did in fact manage to haul myself to my elbows and agonizingly drag myself into my polling place, leaving a smeared blood trail behind me as I did so.

    and now if you’ll excuse me…

    {faints in exhaustion}

  3. Simon St.Laurent

    I didn’t leave a trail of blood so much as a trail of confusion. I’d been a happy Edwards supporter – not that I was convinced of victory, but otherwise content – and his departure left me wondering what to do.

    For the first time I can remember, I didn’t decide until I was actually voting – still oscillating between two second choices. I’ll support either of them in the national race, but they both pretty much needed to be forced to talk specific about the issues I cared about.

    I’m a lot happier focusing on local issues.

  4. Ellen Post author

    The New York Times has a very nice display of county-by-county voting, for us New York political junkies. You don’t often get this opportunity to compare and contrast in races where GOP and Dem are choosing their own guys.

    See here: http://politics.nytimes.com/election-guide/2008/results/states/NY.html

    We’ve known that the state is getting “bluer” but I have been interested in the geographical spread of this. I suppose you could say Obama was the conventionally more progressive choice – although his vote totals seemed to correlate strongly with wealthier or more white-collar areas? (look at Rochester) So it is interesting to note that the blueness of the Hudson Valley is beginning to make itself felt ever so slightly along the Southern Tier, it seems to me.

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