Voting is a privilege. People all over the world have died and will continue to die to try to secure that privilege for themselves and their children.
Come Election Day, that really saps a lot of the joy out of going down to the polling place and facing that ballot.
I can't go in unprepared and fill in any old bubble, making little shapes on the scantron or spelling out words with the multiple choice answers like on the SAT back in high school. No, voting is one of those chores like eating. Every bite I take is a bite that all the starving children in China won't get to eat. They stare over my shoulder all dinner long, looking at those Brussels sprouts shoved to the side of my plate, whispering, "Are you going to finish that?" in Mandarin and telling each other, "Oh, no she DIDN'T," in Cantonese when I throw them away. Then they lecture me about the street value of Brussels sprouts in Beijing and their reputed curative value against SARS. By the time I'm shouting at them that they lost their hold on me when I turned sixteen, my daughter is usually looking at me as if Mommy is off her rocker. (Not my husband, though. If there are Brussels sprouts involved, he's usually on the phone trying to convince paramedics to come pump his stomach.)
Anyway, somewhere between the dinner table and the polling place, all the phantasmal starving Chinese kids wander off to watch someone else eat and all these stuffy fellows in powdered wigs wander in to take their place. They don't appreciate the fact that I'm supposed to be the only one allowed in the booth while I'm voting, and they're quite rude about what I'm doing in there.
"Young lady, are you sure you've carefully considered the fiscal impacts of that proposition?"
"Have you investigated the integrity of the candidates, madam?"
"Are you really going to vote based on opinions you've formed watching Fox news and listening to Rush Limbaugh?" (That last guy looks an awful lot like my dad in a powdered wig.)
The problem is that there are highly educated people who devote their entire careers to "the issues" without coming up with answers that everyone can agree on as correct. And yet the power of helping to make decisions on those issues rests in the hands of people like me, whose main forays into the realm of political science consist of listening to Conan O'Brien's monologues. (Ask me sometime what I've recently learned about Quebec.) How many news stations and analysts do you have to compare before you can sift through the party lines and get a relatively unbiased perspective? More than I can stomach. The more informed a voter I try to be, the more despondent I get about the corruption and folly of our times. I was really starting to wonder how low we had devolved as a culture and how much longer it would be before we self-destructed, when a curious thing happened.
My husband had been telling me what he heard about campaign reforms, that someone had compiled a very long list of senators and the like who would vote for campaign reforms during an election year and then vote against them the rest of the time, so that the group in general could look like they were trying to reform without being in any real fear of it happening. What a scam! What dark times we are in!
I was looking into it more when I came across an article by a lawyer addressed to prisoners. In it, this lawyer stated bluntly that, "nine tenths of you are in jail because you did not have a good lawyer.... There is no danger of a very rich man going to jail." He goes on to assert, "The laws are really organized for the protection of the men who rule the world. They were never organized or enforced to do justice. We have no system for doing justice, not the slightest in the world."
Ah, I sighed. Someone who realizes the mockery we have made of Democracy. Between the MTV generation and the Baby Boomers, we won't be satisfied until we've destroyed everything.
Then I came across a bit where the lawyer suggested that Rockefeller, as one of the men who ruled the world, had something wrong with his brain that would be well served by a long stay in a padded room.
What? Are the Rockefellers still a powerful family? I was confused. I hadn't seen any Rockefeller heirs stabbing anyone or exposing themselves at sporting events lately. I haven't seen any clothing saying, "So-and-So Rockefeller went shoplifting and all I got was this lousy tee-shirt". I haven't received any spam email trying to sell tapes of Rockefeller heirs doing things that would make the advertising department at Carl's Jr. flinch. Obviously the family is passe.
I skimmed the article and was utterly surprised to see Clarence Darrow had written it in 1902. Amazing. I thought he only dealt with monkeys.
Over a hundred years ago, lawyers and lawmakers knew they were playing at a farce. Over a hundred years ago, big business was corrupt as could be and the common man was just a pawn. "This has been the history of the world," says Mr. Darrow. And far from depressing me that Mankind as a whole has apparently always needed a prescription for Ritalin and a prolonged "time out", I was actually cheered up. After all, we haven't managed to wipe ourselves out yet, either as a nation or as a species. No decent presidential candidates? Why, in the history of our great nation, most of the politicians have apparently been argumentative soulless criminals. Feel free to vote straight party line! They haven't run us into the ground yet.
The more I study political science, the less certain I am about particular issues, but the more convinced I am that our system of government is a sturdy thing. 208 years of poor behavior in Washington and an uninformed electorate everywhere else hasn't stopped us from becoming the greatest nation in the world. And who knows what else I'll learn? I'm sure my understanding of the way our great nation works will continue deepening. Just as long as the Canadians don't demand that NBC cancel Conan O'Brien.
Check out Mr. Darrow's full article at http://www.bopsecrets.org/CF/darrow.htm -- for a political commentary, it's a surprisingly fun and thought provoking read.
Monosyllabic political insights and other comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article first appeared in the Manteca (Calif.) Bulletin