why vote? and distance from policy

September 5th, 2008  |  Published in Uncategorized

I would now ultimately summarize my last post on the election as saying that deciding whether or not to vote and who to vote for is a personal decision based on one’s own politics, policy analysis, investments, family, identity, etc. in all it’s contradiction and complexity and not overwhelmed by media coverage of the election, political pundits, ideological rhetoric, or other people’s (however vocal they might be) reasons for supporting a given candidate.  To paraphrase a pundit on the radio, this election is not about issues, it’s about how the candidates resonate with voters.  This is true and great and sad.  But, this reality doesn’t have to be as stark and uncomplicated as the campaigns would like it to be.  I’m so excited that race and gender are part of this campaign and that I have heard more and more people talking about these things as a result of the election.  Still, I got really sick of people debating just how black Barack Obama really was, or trying to explain why women identified with Hillary Clinton, and now, the super-cynical steel cage match between race and gender that was ushered in by Sarah Palin’s VP nomination.  What this leaves out entirely is any imagination for the way that Barack Obama’s experience with race might resonate with someone’s experience with gender or all the other complicated ways that we can connect with or reject the ideas of the people around us.  I resent the implication that people of color identify with Barack Obama just because he is multi-racial or that white, working class people can’t for the same reason.  It shouldn’t be that stark, and it isn’t if people just give themselves some space to do some critical introspection.

This isn’t the only reason why I think people like me (young, punk, creative-classish, college-town living) should vote.  In the first few elections where I was eligible to vote, I voted by absentee ballot.  The first time I actually went to the polls it was pretty exciting and also eye-opening.  I think that people should vote if only to see who else votes and what this says about where political power lies on your community.  Are the people at your polling place mostly of one race?  One gender?  Perceivably of one economic group?  What about the election workers?  Is it easy to vote or confusing?  What might your experience suggest about barriers that others could encounter in having access to even the most basic forms of political involvement?

Finally, Patrick asked me why I thought many of my peers weren’t voting.  Off the top of my head, I said it was because of people’s identification as radicals or anti-authoritarians and because many people just couldn’t be bothered to navigate the process of getting registered and going to the polls.  I forgot one important factor however.  An argument that I frequently hear is that libral, Democratic candidates are just as bad as the conservative ones at a policy level.  Common examples of this are the environmental policy during the Clinton admininstration or support for free trade agreements and more recently Scott Ritter’s statement that there wasn’t much difference between Obama and McCain’s rhetoric about Iran.  More importantly though, I feel like many of my peers feel unaffected by politics, even in the last 8 years of the Bush administration.  This makes sense.  Of my friends few own or drive cars very often, hardly anyone has been in military service or even has a family member in active duty, hardly anyone is a parent, hardly anyone is an immigrant or child of first-generation immigrants, few had to sustain the full cost of a college education themselves and many decided to forgo college, few work in a professional setting where job loss due to discrmination or harassment is a concern, most are young and lead a healthy lifestyle and have been free of chronic health concerns.  I’m not hating.  This describes me too, and I’d say we’re in good company.  However, this is a dangerous place to be in because it is very easy to feel like we haven’t been directly affected by the policy decisions of the last 8 years.  It’s also easy to imagine weathering another 8 years of a Republican administration feeling like little has changed in our daily lives and with the slim satisfaction that we supported neither the reviled Republican leader nor their imperfect liberal rival.

I don’t think this perception is always true, but it’s an easy one to have.  For myself, I had to think a little before I realized how differently my mom, a special-ed elementary school teacher, talks and thinks about teaching and what she sees as possible within and as a result of education since No Child Left Behind became part of her reality.  Also, I’ve been out of college for a few years, but I’m thinking of going back and the prospects for financial aid are really, really different than five years ago.  Still, it took a bit of thought and intention to go from “all the candidate’s policies suck, fuck em'” to “these things affect me”, so I understand the apparent apathy of many of my peers.  I just hope it doesn’t stick.