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Come Down off Olympos

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    Reading OEN essays and comments, I'm dismayed by the number of thoughtful, concerned citizens who nonetheless persist in blowing off this election by refusing to vote for either Obama or McCain.
    Some vow to vote for minority candidates, either to support their philosophies or to register dissatisfaction with a system limited to just two parties. Others plan to write in their choices in order to call attention to people and/or ideologies otherwise unrepresented. Some will write in cute absurdities such as the Easter bunny, to signal the irrelevance of the whole process.  Still others will refuse to vote at all, to protest what they see as either a crooked election system, a political process degenerated beyond saving, or both. It goes without saying, that, strictly speaking, their votes will be wasted.
    Whatever their individual reasons for throwing their votes away, a common motive seems implicit in their intentions. To all of them, taking a stand and sending their message is more important than attempting to rescue the Republic from its current near-death experience. Their rationale appears to be that neither candidate, neither party will make any meaningful change in business as usual, so why not use the election to at least make a worthwhile statement?
    But a statement to whom? Expressed as votes, their assertions will show up only as statistics: X many people preferred Ron Paul or Ralph Nader or a screw-you absurd name. None of the impassioned, nuanced, and often well-reasoned positions I read here in OEN will be recorded, but only the minimally informative fact that a small minority of voters were too disgusted to make their votes count. (As for the abstainers, no one will be able to distinguish the protesters from the merely indifferent.)
    As far as I can figure out, the passionate dissidents are essentially making statements to themselves, strengthening their self-definitions and self esteem by developing ideological positions and nailing them to cathedral doors. In doing this, they hope to communicate these self images to those around them, like men flashing Rolex watches or driving Hummers.
    The problem is that Olympian disdain for messy old politics as it exists has far more serious consequences than innocent (if vulgar) conspicuous consumption. As a citizen who's been voting since Kennedy (and at least paying attention since Truman) I can defend the premise that this is the most important election since 1932, because our country is in a more dangerous condition than it has been since the depths of the great Depression. (In fact, it may well be headed for yet another great depression.)
    When your tire blows out, you don't keep stubbornly driving on the rim because you believe your spare is not much sounder or because you're protesting faulty tire technology or because you're convinced that your car must inevitably self-destruct soon anyway. First, you put on the damn spare tire and go cope with the flat. Only then will you have the leisure and safety to denounce the automotive system and the poor choices available to you.
    Think global warming. Think Roe vs. Wade. Think death in Iraq. Think of financial collapse (including your own saved pittance and your prospects for the future). Think of the egregious abuse of executive power. If then you persist in believing that a progressive executive, legislative, and judicial government cannot make any significant improvement, then your only course is to stock your bomb shelter in Montana and go wait for the worst.
    At my age, I don't have to care. The present system will see me out, as the British phrase it; but I care for the memories of my parents and grandparents, who cherished this nation and took their responsibilities seriously; and I care for my children and for everyone else's, who will be either privileged to live in our country or condemned to do so, depending on how well we care for it.
    So no matter how passionately you hold your convictions, please, please recognize that if you don't contribute now to the small improvements that are possible, our country may not last long enough for you to even begin the large improvements you insist upon.

 

jimstinson.com

A career writer and media maven, Jim Stinson is the author of four mystery novels and a college textbook, Video: Digital Communication and Production. His newest novel, Tassy Morgan's Bluff, will be out from Penguin Books in June 2011. He lives with (more...)
 
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